Tuesday June 28, 2016
Earwax: what’s the point?
The ear glands produce a natural wax called Cerumen whose role is to collect dead cells, hair, foreign materials (such as dust) and remove them from the ear canal. It also prevents infections, by blocking the entrance of germs. Without ear wax, we’d likely suffer from ear blockages from foreign objects, as well as ear infections from the entrance of germs.
However, as useful as earwax is, it can also be the cause of dulled-hearing, if it builds up and blocks ear canals.
Sometimes, this ear wax will build up, and block the ear canal, leading to dulled hearing. This can be a nuisance, but don’t despair - there are a few different steps that be taken to improve this:
- Ear drops
- Ear irrigation (syringing)
- Aural toilet
This would be the first point-of-call in treating earwax blockages. These are used to soften the earwax, and there’s a wide variety of different ear drops available for this purpose. These include sodium chloride/ bicarbonate, olive or almond oil ear drops, which can all be bought in any pharmacy, and treatment can be carried out by patients themselves.
When administering ear-drops, first ensure the liquid is warmed to room temperature before use. When warmed, simply pour a few drops into the affected ear. Lie with this ear facing upwards for 2-3 minutes, until the drops have soaked into the earwax, softening it. Repeat this process 2-3 times per day, for 3-7 days, and usually the earwax will soften and break up.
(Previously known as ear syringing)
Should ear drops not sufficiently clear earwax build-up, the doctor may recommend a treatment called ear irrigation – the washing out of the ear canal, using warm water.
Before this, however, the ear wax should be softened using ear-drops as recommended above. Failure to comply with this step can make the procedure more uncomfortable and less successful!
During ear irrigation, warm water is squirted into the ear canal using a special machine that can specifically control water-pressure. This then dislodges the ear-wax, which should simply flow out with the water. Although a fairly straight-forward procedure, it must be performed by a specially trained medical professional, due to the small risk of damage to the delicate eardrum.
There is a small risk of complications from this procedure, such as ear pain, itch or inflammation, which may be a sign of infection.
This procedure would be discouraged for anyone who had previously had complications from a previous ear irrigation procedure, ear infections (within the last 6 weeks, or recurrent), a perforated eardrum, or any ear surgery.