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What Exactly is Ear Wax? And How NOT To Clean It Out - Ear Health Series Part 1
"Approximately 12 million people a year in the U.S. seek medical care for impacted or excessive cerumen," - Richard Rosenfeld, MD. Chair of the AAO-HNSF Guideline Development Task Force.

It's one of those "ignorance is bliss" kind of topics. We all have it...but nobody really wants to talk about it.

What is it? Ear wax.



The medical term for that waxy yellow substance in your ear canals is cerumen, and believe it or not, it has a function. Produced by outer ear glands, cerumen not only protects the sensitive skin lining your ear canals, but also helps to keep your ear canals clean, lubricated, protected from bacteria and fungus, and most importantly--keeps foreign objects and substances like excess water from entering the canal. Even bugs.

Yes, that gross ear wax is keeping bugs from walking right up in there.

Professional Voice Blog - Hearing Health | What is Ear Wax

How NOT to Clean Your Ears

The ears are an incredible part of our anatomy, and pretty self-sufficient. Your ears do a fantastic job at keeping themselves clean and functioning properly, so there should rarely be a need for human intervention.

However, things happen and sometimes we must step in. Just remember - as tempting as it may be - don't stick anything in your ear canals! This includes q tips. In fact, throw them all away. They are great for applying makeup or small cleaning projects, but NEVER PUT THEM IN YOUR EARS.

1. Going in after the wax yourself

Professional Voice Blog - Ear Health | What Is Ear Wax and How to Clean Your Ears Safely

2. Ear Candles

The theory behind the ear candle treatment is that the heat creates a vacuum that pulls out ear wax (think sucking oxygen out of a bottle). The only problem with this treatment is that little evidence has proven that a strong enough vacuum (if any) is created and also, there is a big risk for injury from the flame or hot wax.

If you want to try this approach, leave it to an expert.

A gentle treatment most commonly used to treat children. Thermal-auricular therapy or ear candling, is a holistic/alternative approach to softening and removing blocked or excess ear wax by lighting one end of a hollow candle and placing the other end in the ear canal. The theory is that a vacuum will be created by the hollow candle and flame, drawing the wax out. The theory has not been proven and injury risk is high.

WHEN TO CLEAN THE EARS & CONSULT A PHYSICIAN
Some symptoms may seem more obvious then others, however these are all signs that your ear wax should be removed or you should go see a specialist.

  • Trouble hearing or sudden loss of hearing

  • Pain

  • Itching

  • Feeling that your ear canals are blocked

  • Dizziness

  • Ringing

  • Problem with balance *seek medical attention immediately


1. Excess Ear Wax An excess of ear wax can be caused by a number of factors, and normally happens when the ear canal narrows. This narrowing of the canal can be the result of infection, certain skin disorders, or the body's response to blockage. Indicators that your ear wax production may be high include a ringing in the ears (tinnitus), trouble hearing, itching, or pain in the ear canal.

The best way to clean excess wax is to gently wipe the visible wax from the outer ear - did we mention not to stick anything in your ear?

An excess of ear wax can effect your hearing, and blockages can even cause you to feel nauseous, dizzy, or physically ill.

2. Blockage

The most common reason to have your ears checked out and wax removed is blockage. Some of the biggest causes of blockage are caused by bad habits, however you may just be prone to it:

  • Pushing ear wax in with q-tips

  • Frequent use of ear bud headphones, noise blockers, or ear plugs

  • Hearing aid devices

  • Naturally prone to wax over production


If you have any problems with your ears, you should consult an otolaryngologist (ENT specialist).

We will talk about proper ways to clean your ears safely in part two of our ear health series!

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Sources:

Dr. Dave Opperman, MD, Colorado Voice Clinic, PC.

WebMD "Earwax: Too Much of A Good Thing", http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/ear-wax

Healthline.com "Earwax: Build Up and Blockage" http://www.healthline.com/health/earwax-buildup#SignsandSymptoms3

 
Tue, Mar 10, 2015 @ 4:14 PM MDT Posted by
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