Ask Your Doctor: EARWAX BLOCKAGE
A common cause of children and some adults seeing their doctor is the buildup of wax in the ears. Often this seldom leads to problems but, in some instances, can lead to temporary deafness.
What is earwax?
Earwax, also known as(cerumen), is a helpful and natural part of your body’s defenses. The ear canal produces this waxy oil. It cleans, lubricates and protects the ear canal by trapping dirt and slowing the growth of bacteria. This wax protects the ear from foreign particles and protects the ear canal skin from irritation due to water. In normal circumstances, excess wax finds its way out of the canal and into the ear opening naturally and is then washed away.
What is ear wax blockage
When your glands make more earwax than is necessary, it may get hard and block the ear. Signs and symptoms of earwax blockage may include:
• Feeling of fullness in the affected ear
• Ringing or noises in the ear (tinnitus)
• Decreased hearing in the affected ear
If you are experiencing the signs and symptoms of earwax blockage visit your doctor for an evaluation as it might mean you have another condition besides ear wax blockage. It is important to note that hearing loss, dizziness, and earaches also have many other causes than earwax blockage.
What causes earwax blockage?
Some people are prone to produce too much earwax. Excess wax does not automatically lead to blockage. In fact, the most common cause of earwax blockage is at-home removal. Using cotton swabs, bobby pins, or other objects in your ear canal, can also push wax deeper creating a blockage.
You are also more likely to have wax buildup if you frequently use earphones which can inadvertently prevent earwax from coming out of the ear canals and cause blockages.
You should never attempt to dig out earwax buildup yourself. This can cause major damage to your ear and lead to infection or hearing loss.
To soften earwax, you can purchase over-the-counter drops made specifically for that purpose. Use only if you do not have any ear disorders.
Another way to remove earwax buildup is by irrigating the ear. You should never attempt to irrigate your ear if you have an ear injury, or have had a medical procedure done on your ear. Irrigation of a ruptured eardrum could cause hearing loss or infection. Never use products that were made for irrigating your mouth or teeth. They produce more force than your eardrum can safely tolerate.
If you are unable to clear the wax, or if your ear becomes more irritated, you should seek medical treatment. Other conditions may cause symptoms of earwax buildup. It is important that your doctor can rule those out. An otoscope (a lighted instrument with a magnifier) helps the doctor to see clearly into your inner ear.
Your doctor may use irrigation, suction or a curette (a small, curved instrument) to remove the wax buildup.
Most people do well after earwax removal. Hearing often returns to normal immediately. However, some people are prone to produce too much wax and will face the problem again.
Earwax blockage can occur in children and adults. Some individuals produce more wax than others and are more prone to earwax blockage, but the most common cause of this blockage is individuals using objects to remove earwax. Once again, never attempt to dig out excessive or hardened earwax with available items such as a paper clip, a cotton swab or a hairpin. You may push the wax further into your ear and cause serious damage to the lining of your ear canal or eardrum. If your earwax is not removed by earwax softeners you should seek professional help.
Ask Your Doctor is a health education column and is not a substitute for medical advice from your physician. The reader should consult his or her physician for specific information concerning specific medical conditions. While all reasonable efforts have been made to ensure that all information presented is accurate, as research and development in the medical field are ongoing, it is possible that new findings may supersede some data presented.
Dr Brett Hodge MB BS DGO MRCOG, is an Obstetrician/Gynaecologist and Family Doctor who has over thirty-two years in clinical practice. Dr Hodge has a medical practice in The Johnson Building in The Valley (Tel: 264 4975828).