Ear Wax and Removal Options

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:

(i) Syringing ear canal with water

(ii) Suction using a specifically designed mini-vacuum and

(iii) Scooping the wax out using special tools.

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.

Ear candling is another option some people may try 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 special tools.

When having a hearing test it is important to have your ears checked for wax.  This can be done by the audiologist at the time of the appointment.  If you know you have a history of a build-up of wax you may wish to visit your GP prior to the hearing assessment.  Of course the audiologists at Audiology Trio are trained to remove ear wax.

Hearing Test

What happens when I have a hearing test?   Well there are hearing a tests and there are comprehensive hearing tests….there is a difference.

A test battery for a comprehensive hearing assessment includes:

  • Pure Tone Audiometry (PTA)
  • Speech Audiometry
  • Acoustic Immittance

Pure Tone Audiometry

This component of the test battery is what is generically known as a hearing test.  The audiologist presents pure tones (beeps) through headphones or inserts worn by the client.  The client indicates when they have heard a pure tone, usually by pressing a button in the case of testing adults. The client is instructed to press the button whenever they hear a beep even if it is very faint and they think they can hear one.  The test frequencies should include at least 250 Hz, 500 Hz, 1 KHz, 2 KHz,   4 KHz and 8 KHz for adults.  Hearing tests for children aged 3-5 years of age will involve less test frequencies: 500 Hz, 1 KHz, 2 KHz and 4 KHz.  Thresholds obtained under headphones or inserts are known as air conduction thresholds.

A bone conductor placed on the mastoid bone of the client is used to obtain bone conduction thresholds.  Bone conduction thresholds are obtained at 500 Hz, 1 KHz, 2 KHz and 4 KHz.

The end result of a PTA assessment is an audiogram.  An audiogram is a graph of the clients hearing.  An accurate audiogram will determine the following:

  • type of hearing loss if any – sensorineural, conductive or mixed
  • degree of hearing loss if any – normal, mild, moderate, severe or profound
  • configuration of hearing loss if any – shape of hearing loss e.g. high frequency loss


Speech Audiometry

This test assesses the client’s ability to discriminate speech at varying intensities.  In other words the test looks at how clearly the person can hear speech as the audibility of the words presented are altered.

It is a very good cross-check when testing children.  It is also a very important counselling tool when assessing a client for hearing aid candidacy.

Acoustic Immittance

This test is predominately used to assess middle ear status.  It is an important part of the test battery for confirming a conductive or mixed hearing loss.