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Ear Wax Removal: Best Practices

We all have it. Ear wax, also known as cerumen, is natural and produced by glands within our ear canals. The bummer part of ear wax is it can cause issues for some people.

For persons who wear hearing aids, ear wax is often more common. Due to wearing a hearing aid in the ear, the ear wax has a hard time naturally leaving the ear canal. It can become impacted and wreak havoc on your hearing aids.

What to do with ear wax

The American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAO-HNSF) has issued new guidelines for ear wax care for healthcare professionals; however consumers should take note also to ensure they are doing the most to they can at home to prevent and treat ear wax.

"Approximately 12 million people a year in the U.S. seek medical care for impacted or excessive cerumen [earwax]," said Richard Rosenfeld, MD, MPH, Chair of the AAO-HNSF Guideline Development Task Force. "This leads to nearly 8 million cerumen removal procedures by health care professionals. Developing practical clinical guidelines for physicians to understand the harm vs. benefit profile of the intervention was essential."

Serious problems occur when cerumen builds up within the ear canal and becomes impacted or compressed. This can lead to a variety of problems:

  • ear pain
  • sound distortion (your own voice sounds different)
  • a feeling of stuffiness or fullness in the ear canal
  • persistent itching
  • an unpleasant odor
  • ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • discharge (an oozing substance that keeps appearing)
  • persistent cough
  • hearing loss

The AAO-HNSF Guidelines

Ear wax is beneficial. It is self-cleaning, protects the inner ear, moisturizes the ear canal and has anti-biotic properties, i.e. germs don't get through.

People who wear hearing aids should be examined regularly for impaction that can cause feedback, limit hearing and cause damage to hearing aids.

Ear wax can cause temporary hearing loss even when 80% of the ear canal's diameter is blocked. (That's good news, so make an appointment today.)

Removal techniques include:

At home:

  • wax-dissolving agents (some o-t-c products are available for home maintenance)

By a hearing care professional:

  • irrigation - removing the impacted ear wax with water under mild pressure
  • manual removal with special instruments
  • suction, carefully controlled and monitored by the hearing professional

Home care should NOT include: cleaning the ear with a cotton swab, oral jet irrigators or ear candling. These practices invariably do more harm than good.

Take the advice of your doctor who may recommend regular visits for a safe ear cleaning.

Bottom line? Cleaning your ears is not a do-it-yourself project like brushing your teeth. Your ears will take care of themselves under normal circumstances - no maintenance needed.

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