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Hey Let's Talk About Ear Wax

Okay, so its not a great conversation starter but the fact is that ear wax, called cerumen by hearing health professionals, is a fact of life. Its not one of those things people want to talk about but as long as were here, lets take a look at ear wax and some important dos and donts about taking care of this irritating problem.

What is it?

Its a naturally produced substance, i.e. it comes standard with the human body. Its purpose is to catch dust and dirt, aka, particulate matter, before that microscopic debris reaches the ear drum. Its a throwback to our caveman days when personal hygiene wasnt a real big deal.

Its a yellowish brown, oily substance produced by special glands located in the outer ear canal. Typically, cerumen naturally dries and flakes off, taking bits of dust and dirt with it as it does. Actually, its a pretty good idea when you think about it. Too bad it causes so many problems for so many people.

Compacted Ear Wax

Heres the story. Cerumen is produced by glands in the outer ear canal. Folks who clean their ears with cotton swabs actually end up pushing ear wax deeper in to the ear and closer to the ear drum. Not good.

You may think youre practicing good hygiene but, over time, its possible to pack enough wax in the ear canal that it affects hearing, and not for the better as you might well imagine.

Punctured Ear Drum

Remember what Mom said? Never put anything smaller than your elbow into your ear. Good advice, though an awful lot of people choose to risk a punctured ear drum for the clean ear feeling.

A punctured ear drum is a serious problem and not usually fixable. People who experience a punctured ear drum will certainly experience some hearing loss and a whole lot of pain.

Cotton swabs and ears - dangerous combination

Irritation

Cotton tipped swabs are commonly used to clean the ear (and cause punctured ear drums). Because ear wax, a natural lubricant is removed, the ear canal becomes irritated leading to itchy ear syndrome. So not cool. The ear canal produces wax for good reason for good health and to moisturize that part of the ear. Removing it will have you scratching you ears all day. Think people will notice?

How do I know if I have a problem?

The most obvious symptom is a loss of hearing. It may take place over time so you dont even notice except the volume on the TV keeps going up a notch and youre asking Whatd ya say? a lot more. A trip to a hearing care professional will tell you if ear wax accumulation has caused even an unnoticed loss of hearing.

Another symptom is tinnitus ringing in the ears. This may be caused by pressure created by ear wax build up. Again, if youre hearing things that only you can hear, see a hearing care professional before making an appointment with your shrink.

Earaches are another common symptom and theres nothing more painful than ear pain. Thatll keep you up at night! Earaches are caused by other things water trapped in the ear canal, noise trauma and the common cold. However, if the earaches are frequent, thats not a cold. Thats a tip to call a hearing healthcare professional.

And of course, that feeling of stuffiness that some people experience may also be a symptom of ear wax build-up. It could also be allergies, a cold or a bunch of other things so dont assume, just because your ears are clogged, that you have an ear wax problem. Only a professional can pinpoint the source and when youre stuffed up and people sound like theyre a mile away when they talk, you want to get to that professional ASAP.

So how do I clean my ears?

Here are a few donts, first. Dont use a bobby pin, cotton swab, the corner of a napkin or your pinkie finger to remove ear wax. In fact, you shouldnt have to clean your ears at all. A small amount of wax is normal. Its supposed to be there.

If you want to clean your ears, use a wash cloth but limit your scrubbing to the outer ear. Never insert anything into the ear canal. Youre not helping the situation and youre definitely not improving ear health.

Now, there are people who produce a great deal of ear wax more than needed to do the job nature intended. Often, this ear wax can be wiped away from the outer ear when it becomes visible but, again, nothing in the ear canal.

There are over-the-counter ear wax softeners such as Murine, DeBrox and Wax Away'. The user places a bit of the wax softener into the ear canal, gives the medicine time to soften the cerumen and then flushes the ear canal with warm water. These products arent as strong as the prescription-strength softeners prescribed by medical professionals but, when used regularly, these O-T-C meds should do the job for most people.

What about cleaning my hearing aid?

Another matter, completely.

However, remember that these are highly-sophisticated, high-tech machines so a cycle in the dishwasher isnt the way to go. If you do see ear wax build-up on the external portion of your hearing device, it can usually just be wiped clean with a soft cloth. If you see wax in the receiver portion it will require use of a special wax cleaning tool that your hearing healthcare professional may have provided you. Carefully follow the instructions provided by them. If used incorrectly, these tools can actually do more damage then good. If you are unsure or unable to safely remove the wax, visit your hearing healthcare professional for safe cleaning.

If the problem persists, and your hearing aid is constantly going in for repair due to wax issues, consider switching hearing aid types, and there are many types. For example, a CIC hearing device fits completely in the ear canal (CIC) while a BTE hearing device is worn behind the ear all the parts far away from wax. The only piece in the ear exposed to wax is a plastic mold which can be cleaned easily.

Look, if youre having trouble hearing, or if youre having an ear wax problem thats gumming up the works of your hearing aid, visit your hearing healthcare professional to get the information, treatment and equipment you need.

Now, that wasnt so bad, was it?

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