Earwax - Information and Treatment for Earwax
Before you pick up a cotton swab or car key to wage war on the wax in your ears, you need to know which side of the battle you’re on.
Earwax is formed in the outer part of the ear canal. Normally, earwax is good for the skin in the outer ear canal. It becomes a problem only when the ear canal is almost completely blocked by wax, preventing the entry of air and sound and preventing the escape of trapped fluid. Here’s how to deal safely with earwax.
Respect its role. The skin in the ear canal has special modified sweat glands that produce earwax. This wax acts as a trap for dust and other particles that might find their way into your ear and cause injury, irritation, or infection. It also contains enzymes to help fight bacteria. In addition, it “waterproofs” the skin of the ear canal, protecting it from water damage, which would make the skin susceptible to infections such as swimmer’s ear. Earwax doesn’t need to be removed under normal circumstances-it’s there naturally as a barrier against injury and infection. Only when there is evidence of hearing loss or discomfort should it be attended to. “This is certainly an instance when the old adage holds true: ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,”’ says Daniel Kuriloff, M.D., associate director of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York. In fact, without wax, or with a diminished amount of it, the inside of your ears would become dry and,itchy.
Wipe it out. Usually, wax accumulates a little at a time, gradually dries up, and rolls out of your ear on its own, carrying all the foreign matter with it. Sometimes, however, the wax moves to the outside of the ear canal more slowly. In this case, you can simply wipe off the wax once it becomes visible. “If you look in the mirror and see little dried-up bits of yellowish matter, you should take a piece of cotton moistened with water to wash it away,” advises Jack J. Wazen, M.D., associate professor of otolaryngology and director of otology and neurotology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.
Use your elbow. One bit of wisdom that has been handed down through generations is: “Never clean your ears with anything smaller than your elbow.” Unfortunately, most people never think twice about cleaning their ears as often-and with the same vigor-as they wash their face. Cotton swabs are the most popular tool, but an endless list of “cleaning” utensils have been employed, including toothpicks, paper clips, and pencil tips. “The point is, don’t try to clean your ears at all. You may harm the delicate lining in the ear canal or poke a hole in your eardrum, either of which will lead to infection,” says John W. House, M.D., associate clinical professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Southern California at Los Angeles. “Most important, you are almost certain to poke the wax deeper into your ear canal, even up against your eardrum, where it will interfere with hearing.”
Don’t rush out for softening drops. Different people form different amounts and types of earwax, and in some cases, the wax may accumulate to such an extent that it interferes with hearing. If you suspect that earwax is hindering your hearing, however, don’t use over-the-counter drops to soften the wax-at least not until you check with an ear doctor. These drops, although effective for some benign external ear conditions, are generally not recommended until the exact source of the hearing loss or ear discomfort is determined by a doctor. In fact, the drops can actually exacerbate certain ear problems, says Kuriloff Wax buildup that is causing symptoms must be removed by an ear doctor. Likewise, if your ears are tender to the touch, reddened in an area that you can see, or draining fluid, don’t use any kind of ear drops or medication before consulting an ear doctor.
Tagged under: cotton swab, Ear Problems, ears, earwax outer ear canal