What most people call ear wax occurs because our ear canals are covered with hair follicles and glands that produce an oily wax called cerumen. This wax lines the inner surface of the ear canal and helps to protect it by attracting and gathering foreign debris such as dust and dirt, bacteria, and various microbes. Ear wax also helps to avoid irritation when the delicate skin of the ear canal is exposed to water; So there is nothing abnormal or unhealthy about ear wax or the production of it.

Typically, ear wax slowly makes its way to the opening of the ear, where it falls out by itself or can be removed when we wash our ears. In a few people, however, the glands in their ear canals produce more ear wax than is usual. This surplus ear wax can accumulate in the ear canal and harden, creating a blockage which keeps sound waves from reaching your eardrum. As a result, the accumulation of excess ear wax is, for individuals of every age, among the most common causes of hearing difficulties.

The signs of ear wax obstruction include earaches, a sensation that the ear is stopped up, a persistent ringing noise (tinnitus), and partial hearing loss, which seems to get progressively worse. This type of hearing loss is called conductive, because the sound waves are prevented from hitting the eardrum, as opposed to sensorineural, as the consequence of some biological defect. Thankfully, this cause of hearing loss is readily diagnosed and remedied.

If you have suffered some or all of the symptoms above, come in to our practice where our hearing specialists can quickly and painlessly determine whether the cause is a build up of ear wax. If this is the situation, there are simple treatments to remove the excess ear wax that can be performed either at home, or in the clinic.

If a hearing specialist diagnoses you as having earwax blockage, there are steps you can take in your own home to remove it. One important thing not to attempt, however, is to use a cotton swab, which tends to just compress the ear wax, not get rid of it. Alternatively, add a couple of drops of glycerin, baby oil, mineral oil, or commercial ear drops made for this purpose to each ear, let them remain in the ear for a few minutes to loosen up the wax, and then rinse the loosened wax out, using body-temperature water. (Cold or hot water may cause feelings of vertigo or dizziness.) To rinse out the ear drops, consider buying one of the bulb-shaped syringes offered by pharmacies, which are intended to make the irrigation procedure simplier and easier. Two more things not to do are to 1) use a jet irrigator such as a WaterPik because its spray is simply too powerful and may cause damage to your eardrums, and 2) use any type of irrigation at home if you know for certain that you have a punctured eardrum.

If these home treatments don’t seem to clear up the blockage, call or visit us for assistance.

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