The canals in our ears are covered with hair follicles and glands that create an oily wax known as cerumen, or ear wax. This wax coats the inner surface of the ear canal and protects it by attracting and collecting alien debris like dust and dirt, bacteria, and various microbes. Ear wax also helps to prevent irritation when the sensitive skin of the ear canal is in contact with moisture; So there is absolutely nothing abnormal or unhealthy about ear wax or the production of it.
For most people, ear wax gradually makes its way to the outer areas of the ear, where it either falls out or is rinsed away when we clean our ears. But, the glands in some people’s ears generate more wax than usual. Because of this, the wax collects and may harden, blocking the ear canal and keeping sound waves from getting to your inner ear. The buildup of ear wax is one of the most common causes of hearing problems, in persons of all ages.
The signs and symptoms of a blockage due to excess ear wax can include feeling as if your ears are stopped up, hearing a ringing noise (tinnitus), and a partial loss of hearing, that worsens over time. This kind of hearing loss is referred to as conductive, because the sound waves are hindered from reaching the eardrum, as opposed to sensorineural, as the consequence of some physiological defect. Loss of hearing caused by built up ear wax, happily, can be easily diagnosed and remedied.
If the signs and symptoms listed above sound familiar to you, see us in our practice where any of our hearing care specialists can perform painless assessments to see whether you do indeed have an excess build-up of ear wax. If it is, an abnormal build-up of ear wax is easily treated, either at home or at the clinic.
If a hearing care professional diagnoses you as having earwax blockage, there are steps you can take at home to remove it. Do not attempt to use a Q-tip or cotton swab, which can cause the ear wax to become even more compacted. Instead, add a couple of drops of mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin, or commercial ear drops made for this purpose to each ear, let them remain in the ear for a couple of minutes to loosen the wax, and then rinse the loosened wax out, using water at body temperature. (Hot or cold water may cause feelings of vertigo or dizziness.) To rinse out the ear drops, look at buying one of the bulb-shaped syringes offered by pharmacies, which are intended 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 simply too strong and may 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 do not seem to solve the blockage, call or visit us for assistance.