Ear Wax and Removal Options
Ear wax is a much maligned bodily excretion. Ear wax, known as cerumen, is secreted by 2 glands in the ear canal. It is produced in the outer third or cartilaginous portion of the ear canal. The purpose of ear wax is to lubricate the ear canal and give some protection from infection. Ear wax is a combination of the waxy excretions, dead skin and hair.
Some people associate a lot of ear wax with poor hygiene and are horrified to hear that their ear canal is full of the stuff. Of course we have no control of the amount of wax we produce or whether our ear canal “traps” wax causing a wax build-up. Most people only need to clean the opening portion of the ear canal as the ear canal is self-cleaning dragging the wax out as the skin in our ear canal grows.
People who do produce a lot of wax, and have narrow and bendy ear canals do tend to suffer more from wax build up. A build-up of wax is often associated with a slight reduction in hearing, echo of your own voice and a blocked feeling. It is possible though to have none of the above symptoms but still have a significant build-up of wax.
Ear wax can be removed by someone who is trained to do so safely, namely your GP/nurse, ENT or Audiologist. There are 3 ways to safely remove ear wax from an ear canal:
- Syringing ear canal with water
- scooping the wax out using special tools.
This is still the most common method used at GP practices by nurses and GPs. It is, however, statistically the most likely to do damage to the ear canal and/or tympanic membrane.
This technique involves flushing the ear canal with water using a syringe. While it can be effective, the force at which the water leaves the syringe is the concern.
Microsuction ear cleaning is a technique that involves the use of a tiny vacuum to gently suction wax from the ear canal. This technique requires the wax to be relatively soft so wax drops may be required before the appointment.
Historically, ENT specialists have only had access to this technique. Now many audiologists and GP practices have this service available to their patients.
iii) Ear Curettes
Specialised ear curettes are used to gently pick or pull ear wax from the ear canal. Again, if the wax is very hard, then a wax drop treatment for a few days prior to the appointment is recommended to help soften the wax.
Ear Wax Techniques NOT Recommended
You may have heard the saying “You should not put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear canal” and it is a good one to live by. Cotton buds should not be used to clean wax from the ear canal. Not being able to see in our own ears makes it impossible for us to clear wax using a cotton bud. The problem with cotton buds is that they can damage the ear canal, which can lead to an infection. Damaging the ear drum itself is also possible when using cotton buds to remove wax. The cotton buds will only push the ear wax deeper into the canal making it harder to get out.
Some people use ear candling to remove wax from their ear canals. Under no circumstances should you use ear candles. Scientific analysis has shown that the suction created by the ear candle is not strong enough to have any effect on ear wax. They can be very harmful to the ear by depositing hot candle wax on the ear canal or the ear drum.
The audiologists at Audiology Trio are trained to safely remove ear wax using the ear curette technique.