While it can be icky, earwax is a normal body secretion that acts as a natural cleanser of the ear canal. It keeps the inner parts of the ear clean and free of germs. Small amounts of earwax are normal as it passes out harmlessly. However, it can sometimes build up, blocking your ears. Earwax impaction is a common problem that is treatable with ear drops. Professionals from HearCanada can also help clear earwax impaction.
What Causes Earwax Buildup?
A good amount of earwax isn’t bad. It is a sign of healthy ears. However, some people are prone to producing large amounts of earwax. This is common, especially amongst adults, with the American Academy of Otolaryngology estimating that one in 20 adults experience earwax buildup.
One of the main factors behind earwax buildup, especially among adults, is aging glands. Normal functioning of most organs and glands in the body, including the mucus glands in the nose and throat, salivary glands in the mouth, and secretory glands in the ears. Advancing age also changes the nature of these secretions, which means earwax becomes harder and dryer. It also moves slowly, causing the accumulation of dead skin particles and other things.
The process of sloughing off also becomes sluggish with age. Most old patients, especially men, have grown significant amounts of hair in their ear canals. This can impede earwax movement. Individuals with hearing aids and earbuds are also at risk. These devices can block the flow of earwax to the outer canal.
While a slight excess of earwax is a nuisance, excessive accumulation of earwax in the ear canal causes a blockage. Removing earwax impaction, or impacted cerumen, is difficult, especially if it has dried up. Unfortunately, impaction causes difficulty hearing, ringing in the ear or tinnitus, and pain.
How to Keep Earwax Under Control
Most people presume that earwax is dirty and should be cleaned. However, human ears are self-cleaning and designed to eliminate undesirable things. Unless there’s excess earwax, enough to affect ear health, earwax shouldn’t be removed. Cleansing your ears gently every day can remove small amounts. For this, cover your finger with a damp cloth and wipe the edges of your outer ear.
If you are among the few people who produce earwax in abundance, consider using a softening agent. Baby oil, 3% hydrogen peroxide, and mineral oil can soften earwax, easing removal. Irrigation to remove impacted earwax isn’t a good idea, especially if you have a middle ear infection or a damaged eardrum. A hole in your eardrum allows fluids deeper into the ear canal. This creates a moist environment that promotes the development of outer ear infections.
What to Do If Your Ear Is Blocked
It is certainly tempting to poke your finger, pencil, or cotton swab to unblock your ear; you shouldn’t go digging. While doing this will remove some wax, it will push the remaining deeper. You can also injure your eardrum. If earwax buildup is causing minor problems, you can buy some ear drops from your local pharmacy. Consider seeing a medical practitioner if the buildup doesn’t clear.
A clean ear canal is crucial to ear health. A study found that 35% of patients above 65 years with impacted earwax had improved hearing abilities after it was cleared. Maintaining a clear ear canal also positively affects brain power. Improved hearing boosts cognitive ability and balance.