Earwax isn't the most pleasant of substances, but did you know that this gooey substance is key to protecting your ears? The various ways that earwax, also known as cerumen, protect our ears and hold secrets to understanding our overall health are still being discovered by scientists.
What is earwax?
Cerumen (earwax) comprises oil, sweat, dirt, and dead skin cells. Its consistency is ideal for capturing microscopic debris and germs that may otherwise make their way into the ear canal and cause irritation or infection. The main purpose of your earwax is to protect the ear from damage.
Earwax has many uses
Earwax not only acts as a barrier to dust and debris but also produces an acidic, antibacterial, and anti-fungal environment in the ear canal, making it far less likely that potentially harmful bacteria will thrive.
- Its hydrating characteristics prevent the ear canal from becoming overly dry, flaky, and irritable.
- It acts as a moisture barrier, keeping water out of the ear canal and minimizing the risk of bacterial infections.
- It aids in removing dead skin cells from the ear canal.
- It naturally repels insects and works as a sticky "bug trap" due to its chemical composition.
Although many people believe that earwax should be regularly cleaned out with a cotton swab, the contrary is true. Most people produce earwax at a rate that protects the ear canal adequately while allowing older cerumen to dry and fall out of the ear.
How NOT to clean your ears
Earwax build-up can occur even though our bodies usually know how much to generate. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, excessive earwax and earwax blockages affect roughly 5% of adults, so there's a chance you could have one.
If you get a stuffy feeling in your ears or a slight hearing loss and think it's earwax, don't try to remove it yourself with a cotton swab, hairpin, or any sharp tool. Cleaning earwax with a cotton swab can cause blockages by pushing the wax deeper into the ear canal, where it gets impacted and cannot leave naturally. The risk of puncturing the eardrum when inserting instruments into the ear canal should also be considered.
How to clean your ears safely
Take a hot shower and let the warm water stream into your ears (provided you do not have a perforation of your eardrum(s)). This will loosen and soften the earwax, making it easier to clear out.
Using a warm, soapy washcloth, clean your ears. Allowing warm water from your regular shower to stream into your ears now and then should soften and release any excess earwax.
You can also use peroxide or an over-the-counter earwax removal kit if your ears are healthy and you don't have a damaged eardrum.
If your home treatments aren't working, contact us, and we can remove the earwax professionally.
We use a variety of methods to remove wax in the office. These include suction, curetting, and irrigation. The method used is based on the type of earwax you have, ear sensitivity, underlying medical conditions/medications, and success of previous treatments.
If you need help managing your earwax, please call us to set up an appointment.
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