WHAT IS EARWAX
Earwax is a mixture of shed out skin cells and hair combined with the secretions of both the ceruminous and the sebaceous glands of the external ear canal. There have been a number of studies to identify the composition of earwax. If you must know- they use a combination analytical technique such as gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to do this. Most studies indicate that the major organic components of earwax are fatty acids (both saturated and unsaturated), alcohols, squalene and cholesterol. There are usually some foreign substances within earwax.
WHY DO WE HAVE IT
Earwax has special properties to trap germs going into the ear and kill them via special enzymes. Therefore, when formed in a limited amount, it is actually a good thing to have a little bit of earwax than not.
Our body has a natural mechanisms to remove wax. Firstly, the skin of the ear canal acts like a conveyor belt and migrates from inside out at a rate of 1-2 mm per day (yes, somebody had the patience to measure it!). Also, when we move our jaw while chewing or eating etc, the pressure inside the ear canal changes which helps to migrate wax outside.
WHEN IS IT A PROBLEM
Earwax becomes an issue when it clogs the ear canal. This can cause various symptoms such as itching, irritation, tinnitus (ringing/buzzing in the ears), hearing loss and sometime infections.
Some people try to clean the earwax with earbuds, which can be more harmful than not. Here are a few reasons why it is not a great idea:
- Ear buds can cause the wax to be pushed further inside, therefore, body’s natural mechanism of wax removal doesn’t work properly.
- Ear buds can cause blunt trauma in the ear, which can cause infection and pain
- Ear buds might help remove a protective layer of protein from the ear canal, making the skin more sensitive to wind etc.
- Ear buds may help introducing germs into the ear as they have a surface and bacteria and other harmful germs may be present on this
- The more you scratch the itchy ear canal with the ear buds- the more you will want to do it. It is an endless loop that you need to avoid getting trapped into.
By the way, the above means that you should not put anything in the ear (anything smaller than your elbow-goes the old adage!). Yes, this includes hair pins, tweezers, straws, paper clips, pen and pencils etc.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU HAVE EARWAX
- You can use earwax softener: In the year 2010, a few enthusiastic researchers at University of Southampton, systematically studied the safety and effectiveness of different earwax softeners. It appears that normal olive oil (NOT extra virgin variety), and 5% sodium bicarbonate ear drops are two products with no known side effects with short term use. It is always advisable though, to take a professional advice before you use any product in the ear because e.g. olive oil can cause issues if you have skin conditions such as allergy, dry skin and/or Psoriasis. Also, how effectively you can get the drops into the wax in the ear, is also a factor in their effectiveness
- Visit an ear care professional for wax removal: There are various different techniques that can be used to remove earwax viz. irrigation of ear canal, manual removal and earwax micro-suction. Although each of the methods have their own benefits and limitations, many professionals now try to avoid ear irrigation with water method due to various reasons. At our clinics we use earwax removal by micro-suction, which is a safe and effective procedure in removing earwax in children and adults. In fact, the above picture has my then three-year-old having earwax removed in our clinic. He was using ‘pardon’ far more often for my liking, which cannot be good for his speech and language development. So, I took him to my clinic and took chunks of wax from his ears. He was actually a very good patient and enjoyed the experience (I guess that’s because he didn’t have to struggle to hear anymore and also, because he loved to be the center of attraction of my colleagues. Such an attention seeker even at this age!).
If you feel you or a family member may have earwax issues that needs to be looked at, please contact us today for an appointment at one of our centers in Bromley, Orpington, Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells or Maidstone.
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