Ears need just as much looking after as any other part of the body. Trevor Chapman, Audiologist at angli-EAR Hearing in Great Shelford, explains all about the sticky subject of wax and ear care.
What is ear wax?
Ear wax is a yellowy brown substance produced naturally in the ear. For many people, ear wax does not cause any complications. However, ear wax build-up can lead to many symptoms.
Why does the body produce wax?
Although the exact function of wax is not fully understood, it is believed to play a role in the cleanliness, hygiene and overall health of the ear; trapping dirt and lubricating the ear canal.
Why does earwax build up?
The amount of wax secreted can significantly vary between individuals; one ear can produce more wax than the other ear. For some people wax can build up inside the ear canal due to a number of reasons:
- The skin lining of the ear canal no longer sheds effectively and traps wax inside the ear.
- Due to hereditary bends or narrowness deep inside the ear canal or chronic ear infections.
- Using cotton buds or regular wearing of hearing aids, earbuds and earplugs can push the wax deep inside the ear.
- Tiny hairs (cilia) inside the ear canal become entangled with the wax preventing it from leaving the ear.
- The glands in the skin lining the ear canal are hyperactive and secrete more wax than normal.
- The presence of hard and dry wax, which is more common in older people, becomes impacted and lodged inside the ear canal.
How do I know if I have ear wax?
If left to build up, ear wax can cause many symptoms:
- Earache and the sensation of a ‘blocked ear’.
- Hearing loss as wax restricts sound waves from travelling efficiently to the eardrum.
- Internal sounds such as chewing, breathing, heartbeat and even your own voice can no longer escape out of the ear and are heard much louder inside your head.
- Tinnitus: a ringing/whistling/buzzing type of sound that can only be heard by yourself.
- Vertigo: dizziness due to an increase in air pressure caused by wax building up.
- Whistling hearing aid – sounds being amplified by the hearing aid is reflected back out of the ear due to wax.
- Itchiness/irritation: impacted wax, especially dry wax, will rub against the side of the ear canal during any jaw movements.
What can I do to treat my ear wax?
There are a number of different ways to safely and gently remove it and clean the ear depending on the consistency of your ear wax. Once removed, there is often instant relief from the symptoms. Ear wax deep inside the ear canal should be removed by a qualified professional. Never poke anything into your own ear canal.
Video otoscopy equipment is used whilst the wax is removed via a low-pressure suction machine and fine sterile probe.
This replaces the old-fashioned technique of ear syringing and uses an irrigation device to introduce water into the ear, rather than squirting straight in. This allows water to flush the wax out safely.
Using state-of-the-art video otoscopy equipment to directly visualise the wax, the audiologist removes wax with the use of micro-instruments.
If you are experiencing any changes to your hearing, it’s important to get your hearing assessed by a qualified audiologist to determine if the problem is wax build up or caused by any other ear problems.