WHAT IS IT
Earwax is formed by all healthy normal functioning ear canals. It is produced by glands that line the ear canal. Each of us inherit the genes, which mostly govern how much and what type of ear wax we will produce. Most people have either wet, sticky yellowish or dark brown earwax or dry, crumbly and grey or tan.
WHY DO WE HAVE IT
Now, earwax, in most ears, is quite a helpful substance. It has acidic and antibacterial properties so, it kills the germs entering the ear. Therefore, having a small amount of ear wax is actually quite helpful. Without earwax, the skin inside your ear would become dry, cracked, infected or waterlogged and sore.
HOW DOES BODY REMOVE WAX FROM EARS
The skin of our ear canals moves from inside out at a rate of 2mm per day. This skin migration brings the wax outside. Also, movement of jaw while eating or talking etc. moves the joint of the jaw bone and ear bone (called temporo-mandibular joint). This joint is situated in our ear canals and it also helps to keep excessive wax outside.
WHY USING EAR-BUDS IS NOT SUCH A CLEVER IDEA
The age-old audiological cliché is -‘you should not put anything smaller than your elbow into your ears’. This is because using ear-buds etc to remove the wax can.:
- push the wax further deep where it collects near the ear drum, potentially turning into nasty disease
- damage the skin of the ear canal. There are three nerves in the ear canal and the skin above them is lined with hard keratin layer. scarping it time and again with ear-buds can make the nerve more sensitive to cold wind etc. in older age. It can result in a persistent pain in the ears too.
- damage the ear drum, should you push it too far by accident
WHEN IS EAR WAX HARMFUL
Excessive wax that completely clogs the ear canal can potentially cause hearing issues, dizziness, disorientation and persistent ringing in the ears (known as tinnitus).
Ear wax can clog hearing aids of people who use them.
CAN CHILDREN GET EAAR WAX
Yes, is the short answer. The youngest child that I have seen in my clinic for earwax removal was three months old. This child could not have ear impression for his hearing aid due to excessive wax, that is why we had to get the wax out (via a technique known as ear microsuction)
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT
Best thing to help your ear remove the wax are Olive oil drops. You can get Olive oil ear drops from the pharmacy. They come with a little dropper. It is best to keep the oil at room temperature for using it in the ear. Most people will generally use it in the night, just before going to bed. You can fill the ear with Olive oil and put cotton to stop spilling in on the pillow on both sides. Olive oil can be used in babies, children and adults and has no known side-effects. It softens the wax and body’s natural processes helps to get it out. Generally speaking, Olive oil should be used for about a week and if that does not help with the earwax, specialist help should be seeked.
Sometime, Olive oil is not enough and one may find it more effective to use sodium bicarbonate ear drops (5% solution). Sodium bicarbonate dissolves the wax and is more effective for some people. It is recommended that you do not try to make your own solution (some people have done it and burnt their ears) and procure it from a recognised chemist. Again, it is used for 5-7 days. Sodium bicarbonate should NOT be used by children below five years old without medical advice. Also, long term usage of sodium bicarbonate can cause ear canal dryness.
Just as a token of warning- ear candles should NOT be used for earwax treatment, whatever the temptation may be. They can do much more harm than good!
HOW IS THE EARWAX REMOVAL CARRIED OUT IN A CLINIC
There are mainly three ways of removing earwax in the clinic. It can be removed by hand, using special equipment. Some people can have ear irrigation with a special machine that produces a water douche, which is carefully directed in the ear to remove the wax. However, people with a history of hole in the ear drum or ear surgeries cannot have it done. A more universal and arguably, the best of removing the earwax is a technique called ear micro-suction. A special earwax hoover is connected with a small nozzle that is used to suck the wax out of the ear, looking at the ear canal through a microscope. The process is very effective and completely pain free and we have a experience of performing this on children from three months to adults of 80 years of age.
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