What is earwax?
Earwax is a lubricating and antimicrobial protective fluid secreted by the ear. It is called cerumen in medical terms.
The ear is quite capable of cleaning itself through a ‘conveyor-belt’ like process in which the ear canal skin grows from inside out and it is aided by chewing and other jaw movements in pushing out the older earwax. Once it reaches the outside of the ear, it flakes off on its own.
The earwax is termed as impacted when its build up in the ear canal reaches abnormal quantities indicating an issue with the natural self-cleaning process. The most common reason of this build up is the unsafe habit of using items like ear buds and safety pins to clean the ear that actually do quite the opposite by pushing earwax further into the ear. Add to it the added problem of ear canal trauma inflicted by these pointed things and you have an ear that’s impacted by earwax. The irony here is that as ears are naturally equipped with a self-cleaning mechanism, most people do not need to clean them at all!
You can suspect impacted earwax when the following symptoms show up:
- Your ear feels heavy from inside
- There is pain in your ear
- There is itchiness inside the ear
- You are facing hearing problems that seem to be getting worse with time
- You hear ringing sounds in the ear (also called tinnitus)
- Your ear is letting off a brownish discharge
- There is a foul odour emanating from your ear
- You are getting dizzy spells
While earwax impaction can occur in anyone, the following people may be more prone to it:
- Those using hearing aids
- Those habitual of putting ear buds, hairpins and safety pins etc into their ears
- Ageing persons
- Those with awkwardly shaped ear canals that are ill-suited for efficient self-cleaning mechanism
We advise a visit to an ENT physician who is best equipped to treat your earwax impaction. Post-examination, he will:
- Prescribe cerumenolytic solutions to soften and dissolve the earwax build up.
- Irrigate the ear canal with water or saline using a syringe after the earwax softens.
- Remove the earwax using special and sterile instruments.
While it is not always possible to prevent earwax impaction from happening, you can certainly take the following precautions:
- Never put ear buds, safety pins, or hairpins in your ear canal.
- If you suspect earwax impaction, do not try to clean it out yourself. Get an ENT specialist to do it for you.