Ear wax is a natural substance which helps to protect the ear from dust, dirt and bacteria.
If it isn’t troubling you it should be left alone. But a build-up of excessive ear wax can lead to problems and may need to be professionally removed.
Our senior audiologist Joana Carvalho describes the different methods of removing excessive ear wax and when you should seek professional help.
Wax Plays A Protective Role
Ear wax is a natural mix of secretions and dead skin found in the ear. It is not a bad thing as it helps to protect the ear against dust, dirt and bacteria.
It is made up of skin cells, dust and oily secretions from the sebaceous and ceruminous glands in the ear canal.
The wax lubricates the ear canal and prevents it from becoming too dry. Your ear wax is probably not the same as someone else’s. The make-up of ear wax changes from person to person based on diet, age and race.
Some people just suffer from regularly blocked ears because they simply over-produce ear wax naturally. Other causes of ear wax build-up are narrow ear canals, hairy ear canals, dry ear wax (not much moisture in the secretion as you get older), swimmers’ ear (bony growths in the ear canal can block the progress of ear wax), a tight or hard ear canal bend, using cotton buds and wearing hearing aids or in-ear headphones.
Symptoms Of Wax Build-up
Several symptoms of wax build-up can show up, including earache. As the wax builds up, it can press against the ear canal causing pain and discomfort.
Hearing loss – especially if you have just been swimming or had a shower – itchiness in the ear, dizziness and tinnitus – a sense of buzzing or ringing in the affected ear – are also symptoms.
If ear wax isn’t causing you problems, leave it alone. The ear is self-cleaning so once the process is not interrupted, the wax should drop out. Sometimes though, ear wax may build up in the canal. Generally, once the build-up starts, it will just continue unless it is removed.
Too Much Wax Can Cause Deafness
Eventually, the ear wax plug will grow to fill the ear canal and this is when you start to have problems. Usually, the first indication is when water gets into the ear during swimming or showering, often causing the ear wax to swell. This blocks the ear canal and you will know about it immediately.
If the wax build-up reaches the stage where it is causing deafness, problems with hearing aids (usually whistling), or is uncomfortable, it needs to be removed. That is the time to think about having your ears professionally cleaned.
Olive Oil Can Help Soften Wax
There are several types of ear drops that you can use to loosen and soften ear wax. The solutions can include olive oil, almond oil, bicarbonate of soda and hydrogen peroxide.
But they might not be suitable for you. If you have had a perforation of your eardrum in the past, ear drops aren’t a good idea. Also, ear wax removal drops very rarely remove the ear wax.
Most drops are oil-based and all they will do is soften the ear wax. If you are going for professional ear wax removal softening the wax is a good idea.
Don’t Try To Remove Wax At Home
Don’t try to remove ear wax at home because your ear canal and eardrum are sensitive. If you damage your eardrum, there may be long-term consequences for your hearing. Professional ear wax removal ensures that there is the least chance possible for something to go wrong.
The main forms of ear cleaning offered are micro suction, irrigation and manual ear wax removal. Ear syringing is not used any longer because it proved to have too many problems and caused too many complications. More often than not, it also didn’t remove the wax.
Micro suction ear wax removal is undertaken with a specialist medical grade vacuum pump that gently sucks the ear wax out of the ear. A special microscope or microscope glasses called Loupes are used which allow the professional to clearly see exactly what they are doing. No liquids are used.
There really aren’t any contra-indications to micro-suction wax removal, though if you have existing tinnitus the noise of the suction may exacerbate it. Normally this is a short-lived issue but it may happen. There is no other real reason than that for not having micro suction.
The second method of ear wax removal often offered is ear irrigation. It is performed with a special medically designed spray-type ear wash machine when a liquid is introduced into your ear canal.
If you have an ear infection, perforated ear drum or have a history of ear drum perforations, you should not have this procedure. If you have a history of dizziness you should tell the professional.
Quick And Easy
Manual ear wax removal is often carried out when the ear wax is closer to the mouth of the ear canal. In fact, even if you are undergoing irrigation or micro suction ear wax removal, the professional will often use manual removal methods as well.
This is done with specialist tools and is easy and usually quick and shouldn’t cause any issues.
Sometimes, because of the consistency of the wax or the age of it, the professional may not be able to remove it all in one session. They may ask you to use ear drops for a few days and come back.
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To make an appointment to have excessive ear wax removed ring 0800 028 6179 or email [email protected]