Offered by: John Wilson, B.S., BC-HIS, Blue Ribbon Hearing & Tinnitus Center
Having earwax is not necessarily a sign of poor hygiene, and a healthy ear canal will always have some wax. Earwax, also called cerumen, is a combination of natural secretions from glands in the ear canal combined with exfoliated skin. Wax is an important part of a healthy ear and a natural defense against foreign material such a dust and insects, and provides some protection against fungus and bacteria.
When working correctly, the ear cleans itself as the skin inside the ear canal grows outward carrying wax and trapped material to the concha where it can be wiped out. This natural cleaning can be hampered by narrow ear canals; dusty, dirty environments; excessive ear hair; and putting objects in the ear, such as q-tips, foam ear plugs, or hearing aids. Using cotton swabs and other objects to attempt to remove wax is discouraged as it is dangerous and usually pushes wax deeper, causing it to become impacted, leading to hearing loss.
Excessive or impacted wax can also trap water leading to temporary hearing loss or infection. When wax becomes impacted, it may become necessary to have it removed by a professional. Over-the-counter solutions are available, but should only be used after the ear canal is inspected. At Blue Ribbon Hearing, we use a video otoscope to display the inside of the ear on a monitor to check ear canal health and see if a problem with wax buildup exists. After inspection, we recommend a specific course of action for each individual.
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