What is Ear Wax?
Ear wax, or cerumen, is a natural substance our bodies secrete to aid in the self-cleaning of our ear canal. Ear wax is made up of oil, sweat, dirt and dead skin cells. It can protect the ear and prevent bacteria from entering the inner ear. People can produce various types of wax, dry or wet wax. Some can be more sticky than others and some more flakey.
If earwax is not causing any abnormal symptom or is not blocking the ear canal, then it should be left alone. However, some people may produce more wax than others which can lead to risks of impaction. Impacted ear wax can also occur in someone who has narrow ear canals or more hair in the ear canal. Additional causes of impacted ear include the use of ear buds or plugs, hearing aids, cotton swabs or other home cleaning tools.
Is ear wax build up a common problem?
According to a paper by the University of Virginia Health Systems, impacted earwax is one of the most common reasons people end up visiting a doctor for ear problems. About 12 million people in the United States seek medical care for problematic ear wax annually, which results in nearly 8 million ear wax removal procedures. (Schwartz et al, 2017). Impacted ear wax can cause ear aches, increased risk for infection, hearing problems, cough, odor, and/or drainage.
Should I have my ears professionally cleaned?
Simply, yes! Your ear canal and eardrum are delicate. When you attempt to clean your ear, you can risk damaging both. As providers in the emergency room, we have seen accidental ear trauma caused by the patient attempting to clean out their ear with various objects or by accidentally leaving a foreign body in the ear canal. With improper treatment, there are risks of perforating the eardrum, ear canal abrasions, worsening the impaction by pushing the wax further against the eardrum, and increased chances of infection.
If you have a buildup of earwax or an impaction, you should seek treatment by a qualified specialist who has the proper instruments and equipment to carefully and safely remove the impaction.
Mitrokostas, S. (2018, July 31). How to know when earwax is normal-and when you should have it professionally removed. Insider. Retrieved March 22, 2019, from www.thisisinsider.com/ do-i-need-professional-ear-wax-removal-2018-7
Schwartz, S. R., MD, Magit, A. E., MD, Rosenfeld, R. M., MD, Ballachanda, B. B., PhD, Hackell, J. M., MD, Krouse, H. J., PhD, . . . Cunningham, E. R., MS. (2017). Clinical Practice Guidline (Update): Earwax (Cerumen Impaction). American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, 156, s1-s29, 1-29. Retrieved March 28, 2019, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/ pdf/10.1177/0194599816671491.
by Angela Cobb
Angela is a Nurse Practitioner with a master’s degree in family and acute care nursing. She is a co-founder of the Clears Clinic and has 16 years medical experience working in the emergency room – 9 of those years as a Nurse Practitioner.
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