Ear wax or cerumen is secreted by glands in the outer portion of the ear canal. This wax plays a dual role of lubricating the ear canal and having antimicrobial properties. Because ear wax is sticky, this makes it ideal to trap dust and other small particles before they have the chance to reach the eardrum and possibly cause an infection. The skin in the ear canal grows outward from the eardrum to the opening of the canal, much like our fingernails do, in order to move wax to the opening of the ear when it dries and flakes off.
Having an ear that does not produce wax creates a dry ear canal that can be itchy be flaky. Also, having an ear that over-produces ear wax can cause the canal to become blocked and reduces hearing. When you wear hearing aids, it is important to keep the ear canals free of wax. Some consequences of too much wax is that it can cause the hearing aid to stop working, decrease the perceived volume of the hearing aid, feedback or whistle.
How should you remove wax? Be careful when using a Q-tip or other blunt object to clean the ears. Although you are removing the wax at the opening of the ear, you could be pushing wax deeper into the canal and can create a block of wax that will need to be removed professionally. Another negative consequence of using Q-tips is that it can cause microscopic scratches in the ear canal making your ears feel itchy all the time. There are always patients who have a story of using the Q-tip while doing something else and ending up with a punctured ear drum.
Check your box of Q-Tips, cleaning the ears is not listed!
If you think you have a buildup of wax in your ears, it is best to have a professional check your ears and remove the wax for you. Using a Q-tip will only create an impaction of wax against your eardrum. The longer wax stays in your ear canal, the harder it gets. Sometimes the wax can feel like a hard rock and will require ear drops to soften the wax prior to removal.
At our office, we will inspect your ear canals with an Otoscope and determine if you need to have wax removed from your ears and to make sure you do not have a hole in the eardrum. If you do have a hole in the eardrum, you should avoid using eardrops or irrigation methods of removing the wax. We use a combination of ear curettes, suction and ear drops to safely remove ear wax in the most painless way possible. We will also determine if you need to be put on a regular regiment of ear drops to help maintain a clear ear canal.
Some common symptoms of excessive ear wax include: ear pain, fullness of the ear, decreased hearing, dizziness, increased ringing in the ears, itchiness.