Why do we have earwax?
Earwax is designed to lubricate the ear canal and help in the cleaning and protection process of moving dry skin and foreign debris and particles away from the eardrum and out of the ear canal. It also has antibacterial properties that can help prevent infections in the ear canal.
There is a natural progression of earwax that helps carry dry skin cells and earwax from the middle of the ear canal to the outer ear via chewing and jaw motion. The wax and debris then dries, flakes and falls out of the ear on its own.
When is it necessary to clean ears?
Most of the time in normal ears, it is not necessary to specifically clean the ears. If desired, the outer ear opening can be cleaned with a washcloth and soap and water. However, ear pain and fullness or a sensation of the ear being plugged, possible hearing loss, itching, odor or drainage from the ear, coughing and tinnitus are all possible symptoms of impacted cerumen or earwax. If someone experiences these symptoms, they should have their family doctor look in their ear canals and clean the ear if necessary.
How can earwax be safely removed?
Q-tips and sticking something down in the ear canal, such as a bobby pin, are not safe options. Using softening drops, such as mineral oil, baby oil or commercial drops such as Debrox can be used. Sometimes this will be enough to start the process of the wax moving out of the ear canal on its own. For more significant blockages, flushing can be done with warm water and a bulb syringe. Once again, this can be done with an over the counter kit at home. It can also be done at your family doctors' offices. An ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon) can also remove cerumen with suction under a microscope.
Flushing is not recommended for people with narrow or very small ear canals, diabetics, people with P.E. tubes or a perforated eardrum. In these cases, flushing can cause infection or more problems with the ear. Follow up with an ENT surgeon is recommended in all of these cases.
Ear candling is not considered a safe option according to the FDA and the American Academy of Otolaryngology due to the risk of burns or other injury to the ear.
What should I do about wax if I wear hearing aids?
Hearing aid users and people that wear ear plugs for noise protection are more at risk for wax impaction. It is recommended that you follow up with your audiologist or hearing health care provider every 6 months to help manage the wax. For some patients, that may be every 3-6 months for extreme wax build up.