Earwax, also known as cerumen, is a naturally produced substance in the outer ear canal. It helps with lubrication of the canal and can protect the ear from infection. There are many different appearances of earwax. Earwax can be dry and flaky or can be wet and yellow to dark brown.
When cerumen accumulates to the point where it causes symptoms, it is commonly referred to as cerumen impaction.
When cerumen is excessive, it can result in the following:
There are a variety of reasons as to why this happens. Some people simply produce too much cerumen. Other people may have narrow ear canals. Sometimes cerumen is pushed deeper into the ear canal due to use of Q-tips, hearing aids or in-ear headphones. Impacted cerumen affects approximately 1 in 20 adults and 1 in 10 children. If you think you are the only one who needs to have their ears cleaned professionally, think again! Cerumen impaction leads to approximately 8 million doctor visits each year in the US.
Personal care of cerumen depends on the amount you naturally produce. Some people produce very little cerumen and may require no regular cleaning or can be adequately treated with over the counter wax softening drops, such as Debrox. If you produce cerumen in larger amounts, you may require ear cleaning by an ENT specialist.
An ENT specialist may remove cerumen in different ways depending on the amount and type of cerumen they see in your ear canal during your visit. In our office, we have several methods to remove your cerumen, including suction, curette and irrigation. Usually, we are able to completely remove your cerumen in one visit. Depending on how much cerumen you produce, you may be scheduled for regular cleaning every 6 months to one year.
The truth about Q-tips. We are commonly asked about Q-tips and there is a clear answer.
No one should be using Q-tips in their ears! You may use a washcloth or towel after showering to clean the outer ears, but nothing should be inserted into the canal. When objects such as Q-tips or bobby pins are inserted into the canal, it can make the problem worse by pushing cerumen deeper into the canal, making it more difficult to remove. In addition, part of the Q-tip may fall off and become lodged in the canal, leading to further blockage. Worse yet, you may actually perforate your eardrum using Q-tips.
Ear candling has lately become popular. However, this method for cleaning cerumen is not effective and can result in burn injury to the ear canal or eardrum.
If you are having similar ear symptoms, you may be suffering from cerumen impaction. Make your appointment today to see if you need to have your ears cleaned. Hopefully you will find quick relief!