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Everything You Need To Know About Earwax

calendar-icon April 1, 2020
bookmark-icon Hearing, Protection/Preventative

As an audiologist, I find it humorous how intrigued people are about keeping their ears clean. The irony is that we need a healthy amount of earwax in our ears in order to keep them clean! In other words, for most people, ear wax is not the problem, it is the solution! The medical term for earwax is cerumen.  The body produces cerumen to clean, protect, and oil the ears.  It acts as a self-cleaner, keeping the ear canal’s lining (or skin) healthy.  As we chew and talk, the motion created by our jaw contorts our ear canals, causing the wax to travel out of our ears.  

Earwax facts

Occasionally, the ear’s self-cleaning process might not work the way it should, and this can lead to a buildup of earwax.  For instance, if you wear hearing aids, your ears won’t clean themselves the way they should, due to the fact that the hearing aids are blocking the canal. This prevents the wax from naturally flaking out on its own throughout the day. Also, some people have structural differences in their ear canals that make this natural process difficult, such as those with Down’s Syndrome. 

When earwax builds up to the point that it is impacted (blocking the ear canal) there can be repercussions.  Symptoms include: ear pain, loss of hearing, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), discharge or odor coming from the ear. 

Here are some big don’ts when it comes to ear cleaning:

  • Don’t overclean! Excessive over cleaning of the ear canal can strip the canal walls of their natural oils, which creates an opportunity for infection, and can actually create MORE wax production.  It can also often make your ears itch!
  • You may have heard the old adage “Don’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear”. The only thing allowed in the ear canal is a hearing aid prescribed by a licensed professional. Do not use cotton swabs (Q-tips), hair pins, toothpicks, etc.  The use of these instruments may lead to lacerations of the ear canal wall, causing a hole in your eardrum, or even disrupting the bones of the middle ear, leading to dizziness and permanent damage. Q Tips may appear to remove earwax, but often most of the wax is pushed further into the canal, not removed. Using Q tips over time can push enough earwax into the canal that it causes temporary hearing loss. Your physician or audiologist will have to remove the impacted wax for you, and this is often uncomfortable and even painful.  If you are on blood thinners you are at an even greater risk of lacerating your ear canal and bleeding. 
  • Do not buy into the ear candling craze! What comes out of the ear during ear candling is just a byproduct of the burning process. There is no clinical evidence to support ear candling but there are many horror stories of permanent damage done to the ear. 

Here is some advice on how to safely clean your ears:

  • Keep it simple: after a warm shower or bath, take a washcloth and wipe out your ear.
  • If your ears need a little extra help you can take an eye dropper and drop one or two drops of hydrogen peroxide into the canal.  Allow it to sit in the ear for up to 30 seconds.  Next drain it out, soaking up the mixture with a cotton ball.  This is often enough to break up the ear wax, so it comes out naturally.  Please consult with your physician or audiologist before utilizing this process. 

As always, please contact us at Adaptive Audiology with any questions or concerns. If you are struggling with hearing loss, we encourage you to make an appointment to have your hearing tested. At Adaptive Audiology Solutions, we provide hearing healthcare that puts the patient first.


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