Ty Johnston, Pharmacy Student
Earwax is a composition of two substances secreted from the ear (cerumen and sebum), old skin cells, sweat, and foreign substances such as dirt and shampoo. Earwax is beneficial as it’s meant to lubricate and protect the ear by repelling water, preventing damage to the ear canal, and preventing the growth of bacteria. Therefore, clinicians often advise against removing unless it accumulates in the ear and causes discomfort.
For the most part, the inside of the ear actually maintains itself. Most often, movements and vibration that come from the mouth and jaw during eating and speaking are enough to dislodge earwax and prevent accumulation.
Signs of impacted earwax:
The only exception to the above rule is when impacted earwax occurs, during which earwax accumulates despite the body’s usual methods of clearing it out. This can happen more frequently in individuals with skin conditions like psoriasis, or simply people that were born with smaller ear canals.
Earwax impaction commonly causes symptoms such as:
- Ear discomfort, such as sensation of fullness and itchiness
- Mild hearing loss
- Gradual onset of mild ear pain
People are more at risk of earwax impaction when they use hearing aids or earplugs, are of older age, or use cotton swabs to clean their ears.
The following are signs that do not indicate earwax impaction:
- Discharge from the ear
- Moderate to severe pain
- Rash in the ear
- Ringing in the ear
These symptoms indicate other problems such as infection or a damaged eardrum and require assessment from a healthcare professional.
How to Treat
Oil-based ear drops: olive oil, light mineral oil, or almond oil can be used by applying 3-4 drops into the affected ear once or twice daily. This works to soften earwax so that it may be expelled naturally or before syringing. It is important not to use any ear drops if you there is signs of a ruptured eardrum, such as sudden onset of pain, ear discharge, or abrupt hearing loss.
The most effective way to treat impacted earwax is through syringing body-temperature water into the ear. This is commonly done by physicians or caregivers and best accomplished after a few days of softening ear wax with oil-based ear drops.
In order to properly cleanse out the ear canal, purchase a plastic syringe from your local convenience store or pharmacy. After filling with body-temperature water, position the syringe tip at the opening of the ear canal, but take care to avoid actually inserting the syringe into the ear canal
. Ensure the syringe tip is pointed inwards and up before pushing out the water, so that water going in can travel back out the ear canal along the bottom, carrying ear-wax out with it. Never insert the syringe into the ear, or risk damaging the eardrum.
The Bottom Line
The most effective way to prevent impaction is to avoid cleaning the ear canal with cotton swabs, fingernails, hairpins, or other objects, as these can push earwax farther into the canal. When people experience frequent impaction, it is sometimes recommended to instil oil-based ear drops into the ear a couple times a week.
The most important takeaway is that earwax is protective to the ear and is there for a reason. Earwax should only ever be removed if it’s over impacted and causing problems, but besides that, constantly cleaning your inner ear is not considered a part of normal hygiene.
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- RxTx: CTMA. Impacted Earwax.