WHAT IS EARWAX
Earwax is a mixture of the 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 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 sometimes infections.
WHAT NOT TO DO
In a survey in South East England, it was found that an alarming 68% people were using cotton buds in their ears, with 76% of users using them at least weekly, if not more frequently. The primary reason (96%) given for using cotton buds was to remove earwax. When you try to clean the earwax with earbuds, it can be more harmful than not. Here are the top reasons why it is not a great idea:
WHAT IS THE HARM
- In the 30 years leading to 2010, more than 260,000 children visited US emergency department due to injuries related to use of cotton buds. Around 55% of them had either a hole in the eardrum or foreign body sensation. (Ameen et al, 2017)
- Here’s a more dramatic illustration of how cotton buds can not only be harmful for ear but also, damage your brains. Here’s a young 31 year old man who used cotton bud in his ear that got stuck inside without his knowledge, causing serious damage in the bones around the ear. Of course the ear is only separated from the brain by a very thin bone and the infection reached the part of the brain just above the ear. (Charlton and Rejali, 2019) A bit of cotton left in the ear may sound harmless, but in this case, it wreaked havoc
- There are numerous others and personal examples that I have from my own clinic, where earbuds have done much more damage than good. From my last 20 ears of professional experience I can clinically confirm that there is no wisdom in poking your ears whatsoever. In fact, the boxes of earbuds do come with a warning NOT to use them in the ears.
Therefore, do not put anything in the ear- nothing smaller than your elbow-goes the old adage. Yes, this includes hairpins, tweezers, straws, paper clips, pen, pencils and every other inanimate object that you use to clean your ears. I do hope you have not seen the disgusting video of a London official cleaning the ear with their glasses and then licking it. I should soon write another post on why you shouldn’t eat your earwax, I guess.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU HAVE EARWAX
- Firstly, if you need to itch just itch the ear from outside. Again, don’t put anything inside the ear.
- Seek professional help- it will be better, safer and cheaper option. There are tons of reasons why ears become waxy/itchy. So, visit someone who knows what they are doing and can treat your specific problem. GP, ENT, Nurse or audiologists- they are available near you so, just make that visit.
- You can use earwax softener: 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. However, every feeling of blockage is not due to ear wax. We see people in our clinic with acute medical issues that are deemed due to earwax but need urgent help. Take advice.
- Ear drops can sometime cause a few problems e.g. olive oil can cause issues if you have skin conditions such as allergy, dry skin and/or Psoriasis. General contraindications of this sort of wax treatment include (but NOT limited to)-perforated eardrum, inflammation, recent ear surgery, injury or infection, and mastoid cavity. 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 depending on your issue. Earwax removal is safe and effective for children and adults. When it is done right, there is no pain involved.
The picture at the top is my then three-year-old having a chunk of earwax removed in our clinic after he started using ‘pardon’ far more often for my liking. 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 it was more comfortable having the hard wax out.
By the way, we get a lot of enquiries on it so, it is worth mentioning that there is no evidence Hopi Ear Candles work for wax removal. There are numerous safety warnings against their use as wax candling can go wrong. UK Ear Specialists advise against the use of Hopi Candles and FDA is warning people not to use them because they can cause serious injury. Ear candles are promoted and sold in health food stores, health spas and salons, flea markets and on the Internet. In our experience, the wax you see after the candle treatment is actually the wax from candles themselves rather than wax coming out from your ears. Check this FDA warning in this youtube video
If you feel you or a family member may have earwax issues that need to be looked at, please contact us today for an appointment at one of our centers in London, Dorking (Surrey), Orpington, Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells or Longfiled in Kent)
If you already have booked an appointment with us for ear wax removal, please take a moment to send us your consent by clicking here (Please contact us to obtain a password).