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Ear Wax: No Pictures, Just Results

March 12, 2020 By RHP Staff | Lynn Carpenter

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It’s hard to read a news story on your computer when the page shows someone retrieving a wad of earwax. Ugh. So we won’t.

Audiologists and ENT’s can regard earwax known to them as cerumen, with steely aplomb. The rest of us, not so well. 

So, we promise no ghastly gobs of wax to make our points today. (And if your computer throws up an ugly advertisement on the side bar, do not click on it!) Today, it’s just the answer to the questions you wouldn’t ask your bridge group. Do you get a lot of wax? Does it itch? How much is too much? How do you get rid of the stuff?

Cerumen (suh-ROO-men), for all its horrors, is good stuff for your ears. The skin inside your ear is much more delicate than the skin on your face. Cerumen lubricates and protects it. It creates a barrier to infectants like lung free-floating fungi and bacteria that arrive on the wind or via the swimming hole. It prevents water from over-drying the skin in your ear canal.

Cerumen is made in the outer part of your ear, not behind the eardrum. As you chew or move your jaw, the wax moves farther toward the outside.

If it doesn’t move fast enough, you could develop a blockage, or buildup—in technical terms, a bolus. Also known as a gob.

Usually, except for the ugliness factor, this gob is harmless. Removing it is a matter of good grooming. But there is room for trouble.

Impacted earwax can interfere with your hearing and feel uncomfortable. In extreme cases, you might notice an odor or hear ringing tones. It’s even possible for earwax to cause dizziness. If you do notice an odor or feel very uncomfortable, see your doctor immediately.

In normal cases, though, if you feel an annoying fullness in your ear or your wax is offensively visible, you can get rid of it yourself.

But do it carefully. An old tradition of ear candling is a no-no. In this method, a candle with a hollow end is placed in the ear canal and the other end is lit. It’s meant to soften the wax so it can move or be removed. Don’t do it. At best it’s a poor method, not likely to work as well as other approaches. At worst, it can seriously harm your ears and hearing.

Better methods also soften wax more gently. You can mildly warm some mineral oil, baby oil, or glycerin and use a dropper to put a few drops in your ear. If this softens the wax enough, a follow-up with a syringe filled with warm salt water should flush the wax out. It may take more than a single treatment over a couple of days.

Stepping it up a notch, there are reliable over-the-counter products like Debrox that work even better in stubborn cases.  

People who wear ear molds for noise control or in-the-ear hearing aids are particularly likely to develop excess earwax. They may turn to their usual audiologist or ear doctor for help. If you cannot get rid of earwax within a couple of days of trying the oil and flush method just described, you should do the same.

Now for the cautions: Do not dig in your ear with anything. No Q-tips and heaven forbid, no paper clips. Ears are delicate. That’s why you have earwax. 


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