The canals in our ears are covered with hair follicles and glands that produce an oily wax called cerumen, or ear wax. This wax coats the inner surface of the ear canal and helps to protect it by attracting and gathering foreign debris such as dirt and dust, bacteria, and other microbes. Ear wax also helps to prevent discomfort when the sensitive skin of the ear canal is exposed to moisture; There is absolutely nothing unnatural 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 comes out on its own or is removed when we rinse out our ears. But, the glands in certain people’s ears make more wax than usual. This surplus ear wax can accumulate in the ear canal and harden, resulting in a blockage which keeps sound waves from getting to your eardrum. The accumulation of ear wax is among the most frequent causes of hearing loss, in people of all ages.
The signs of ear wax blockage include earaches, a sense that the ear is stopped up, a chronic ringing noise (tinnitus), and partial hearing loss, which seems to get gradually more serious. This is a kind of conductive (as opposed to sensorineural) hearing loss, in which the sound waves are blocked from reaching the eardrum. Luckily, this cause of hearing loss is easily diagnosed and treated.
If the symptoms in the list above sound familiar to you, see us in our office where any of our team members can perform pain-free assessments to see whether you do indeed have an excess build-up of ear wax. If it is, an excessive accumulation of ear wax is easily treated, either at home or at the office.
If an audiologist diagnoses you as having earwax blockage, there are steps you can take at home to remove it. One of the things not to do, however, is to use a cotton swab or Q-tip, which tends to just compact the ear wax, not get rid of it. A much better home treatment is to add drops of mineral oil, glycerin, baby oil, or commercial ear drops to each ear, allow them to loosen the wax buildup, and then wash it out using water at body temperature. (Note: using either cold and hot water to flush your ears can lead to feelings of dizziness or vertigo.) To wash out the ear drops, look at buying one of the bulb-shaped syringes sold by drug stores, which are intended to make the irrigation process 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 might cause damage to your eardrums, and 2) use any form of irrigation at home if you know for certain that you have a punctured eardrum.
If these home remedies don’t seem to clear up the blockage, call or visit us for assistance.