Earwax: How It Affects Your Hearing
The human ear is a highly complex organ. Not only does it contain the three smallest bones in the body, it is responsible for our hearing and balance. Earwax impaction is the most common cause for hearing loss.
Consists of cartilage covered by skin and is shaped to capture sound waves and funnel them through the ear canal to the eardrum
Eardrum: thin membrane that separates the outer ear from the middle ear
Small air-filled chamber containing a chain of three tiny bones that connect the eardrum to the inner ear. Vibrations of the eardrum are amplified by the bones and transmitted to the inner ear
The eustachian tube is a small tube that connects the middle ear to the airway in the back of the nose
Cochlea: organ of hearing
Vestibular system: organ of balance
Earwax Production: Everyone does it
Starts as a mixture of fatty secretions from the sebaceous and sweat glands in the walls of the outer ear canal
Jaw movement from chewing or talking helps propel those secretions through the canal to the ear opening, where they dry up and flake off
Dead skin and other debris combine with secretions to create earwax
Earwax that picks up a lot of debris or sits in the ear canal for a long time can get hard and dry, obstructing the ear canal
Some earwax is good for your ears.
It protects the skin lining the ear canal. It’s a natural water-proofing agent and lubricates the ear canal
It's a natural cleanser as it moves from inside the ear canal outward, gathering dead skin cells, hair, and dirt along the way
It has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties
If your ears don't have enough earwax, they're likely to feel itchy and uncomfortable
Symptoms of earwax impaction
Decreased or muffled hearing
Feeling that something is in the ear
Feeling of fullness in the ear
Ringing in the ear
Ear discharge and/or odor
Causes of earwax impaction
Cotton Swabs: push the wax back in and pack it down
Fingers: can push back wax
Hearing aids: can push back wax. Wax can also damage hearing aids
New earwax is soft and a golden-yellow color. Older earwax becomes dryer and turns to a brown or black color. There are some people who produce much more earwax than others, requiring periodic cleaning.
At home: Because of the many options to flush ears and risk to certain patients, consult your healthcare provider to see which option is best for you. Never attempt to dig out excessive or hardened earwax, such as with a paper clip, cotton swab, pen cap, toothpick, or hairpin. You may push the wax farther into your ear and cause serious damage to the lining of your ear canal or eardrum.
Ear candling, a technique that involves placing a lighted, hollow, cone-shaped candle into the ear to try to remove earwax, is not recommended. Research has found that it doesn't work, and it may result in injury, such as burns, ear canal obstructions, and ruptured ear drum.
Healthcare provider: Removal techniques include
Curette: small, curved instrument to manually remove earwax
Flushing with warm water
An earwax softener may be used prior to removal.
The best way to clear your ears of wax is to use a washcloth or a tissue on the outer ear a couple of times a week. Wipe along the outer edges of your ears with a towel after you shower or bathe.