The canals in our ears are lined with hair follicles as well as glands that produce an oily wax called cerumen, or ear wax. The reason for this wax is to line the inner surface of the ear canal and defend it by gathering up bacteria, dirt and dust, and miroorganisms. Another reason for ear wax is to defend the delicate skin of the ear canal when it is in contact with moisture; Thus, the creation of ear wax is both normal and healthy.
In most people, ear wax ultimately makes its way to the external sections of the ear, where it either falls out or is rinsed away when we clean our ears. In a few people, however, the glands in their ear canals make more ear wax than is usual. This excess ear wax can accumulate in the ear canal and harden, creating a blockage that prevents sound waves from reaching your eardrum. The buildup of ear wax is among the most commonly seen grounds for hearing problems, in people of any age.
The symptoms of a blockage caused by excess ear wax include feeling as though your ears are stopped up, experiencing a ringing noise (tinnitus), and a partial loss of hearing, which gets worse with time. This kind of hearing loss is called conductive, because the sound waves are prevented from hitting the eardrum, as opposed to sensorineural, as the result of some biological flaw. Hearing problems attributable to excess ear wax, happily, can be easily identified and remedied.
If the signs and symptoms mentioned above sound familiar to you, see us in our clinic where any of our hearing care specialists can do painless assessments to see whether you do indeed have an excess buildup of ear wax. If this is the case, there are straightforward treatments to clear out the excess ear wax that can be performed either at home, or in the office.
If a hearing specialist says that you have excess ear wax which is obstructing your ear canal, you can take steps to remove it by yourself at home. One important thing not to do, however, is to use a Q-tip, which has a tendency to just compress the ear wax, not get rid of it. Alternatively, add a few drops of baby oil, glycerin, mineral oil, or commercial ear drops made for this purpose to each ear, allow them to stay in the ear for a few minutes to loosen the wax, and then wash the loosened wax out, using water at body temperature. (Note: using either cold and hot water to irrigate 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 designed to make the irrigation procedure simplier and easier. Two more things not to do are to 1) use a jet irrigator such as a WaterPik because its spray is too strong and can cause damage to your eardrums, and 2) use any kind of irrigation at home if you know for certain that you have a punctured eardrum.
If this does not seem to work to get rid of the buildup of ear wax, come visit us.