What we call ear wax occurs because our ear canals are lined with hair follicles and glands that generate an oily wax called cerumen. The purpose of this wax is to coat the inner surface of the ear canal and protect it by gathering up bacteria, dust and dirt, and miroorganisms. Ear wax also helps to prevent discomfort when the delicate skin of the ear canal is in contact with water; There is absolutely nothing abnormal or unhealthy about ear wax or the production of it.
In the majority of people, ear wax ultimately makes its way to the outer sections of the ear, where it either falls out or is rinsed away when we wash our ears. In some people, however, the glands in their ear canals make more ear wax than is usual. The surplus ear wax can accumulate in the ear canal and harden, resulting in a blockage that hinders sound waves from getting to your eardrum. For that reason, the buildup of excess ear wax is, for individuals of all ages, one of the most common reasons for hearing loss.
The signs and symptoms of a blockage due to too much ear wax include feeling as if your ears are stopped up, experiencing a ringing noise (tinnitus), and a partial loss of hearing, that becomes worse with time. This is a type of conductive (as opposed to sensorineural) hearing loss, in which the sound waves are blocked from getting to the eardrum. Hearing problems attributable to excessive ear wax, luckily, can be easily identified and remedied.
If the symptoms in the list above sound familiar to you, see us in our clinic in Boise, where the specialists at House of Hearing Audiology Clinic can do pain-free tests to see whether you do indeed have an excess build-up of ear wax. If it is, an abnormal accumulation of ear wax is easily treated, either at home or at the clinic.
If one of our specialists has diagnosed you as having earwax blockage, there are things you can do at home to remove it. Do not try to use a Q-tip or cotton swab, which can cause the ear wax to become even more compacted. Alternatively, add a couple of drops of mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin, or commercial ear drops made for this purpose to each ear, allow them to stay in the ear for a few minutes to loosen up the wax, and then rinse the loosened wax out, using body-temperature water. (Hot or cold water can cause feelings of vertigo or dizziness.) To rinse out the ear drops, consider purchasing one of the bulb-shaped syringes sold by pharmacies, which are designed to make the irrigation procedure easier. Two more things not to do are to 1) use a jet irrigator like a WaterPik because its spray is simply too strong and can cause damage to your eardrums, and 2) use any kind of irrigation at home if you know for sure that you have a punctured eardrum.
If these home treatments do not manage to clear up the blockage, call or visit us for assistance.