Symptoms and Causes - Diagnosis and Treatment
The outer ear is made up of skin, where we have ceruminous glands that produce an oil to lubricate and protect the skin, and is lined by hair follicles.
Earwax protects the ear
Trapping and preventing dust, bacteria and other micro-organisms, as well as small objects, from penetrating and causing damage to the ear.
Protecting the delicate skin of the ear canal from irritation when water gets in.
Earwax can build up and block the ear canal. Earwax blockage is one of the most common causes of hearing loss.
In some people, the glands produce more earwax than can be easily removed from the ear. This extra earwax can harden in the ear canal and block the ear, causing compaction. When one tries to clean the ear, it can actually push the earwax deeper and block the ear canal. For this reason, ear, nose and throat specialists do not recommend digging into the ear to clean it.
The most common symptoms are:
Fullness in the ear or a feeling that the ear is plugged up
Noises in the ear (tinnitus)
Partial hearing loss, which may get worse
Earwax is secreted by glands in the skin lining the outside of the ear canal. The earwax and tiny hairs in these ducts trap dust and other foreign particles that can damage deeper structures, such as the eardrum.
In most people, a small amount of earwax regularly travels to the ear opening, where it is either washed out or falls out as new earwax is secreted to replace it. If you secrete too much earwax or if earwax is not removed effectively, it can build up and block the ear canal.
Earwax blockages commonly occur when people try to clean their ears themselves by inserting cotton swabs or other products into the ear. This usually pushes the earwax into the ear rather than out.
When to consult an ENT doctor
If you have the signs and symptoms of earwax blockage.
Signs and symptoms may indicate another disease. You may think you can remove earwax on your own, but there's no way to know if you have excess earwax without having someone, usually your doctor, check your ears. Having signs or symptoms, such as ear pain or decreased hearing, does not necessarily mean you have wax build-up. You may have another ear-related condition that needs attention.
To be safe, wax removal must be performed by a doctor. The ear canal and eardrum are delicate and can be easily damaged by excess wax. Do not attempt to remove it yourself by inserting a device into the ear canal, especially if you have had ear surgery, if you have a hole (perforation) in your eardrum, or if you feel pain or drainage in your ear.
Your doctor can determine if you have an earwax blockage by checking your ear with a special instrument that illuminates and magnifies the inner ear (otoscope).
Do not attempt to remove the earwax plug.
Never try to push excess or dried earwax out of your ears with objects within reach such as paper clips, Q-tips or hairpins. You could push the earwax further into the ear and cause serious damage to the walls of the ear canal or eardrum.
The doctor can remove excess earwax by using a small curved instrument called a curette or by using suction when inspecting the ear. The doctor can also flush out the earwax using an irrigator or a rubber bulb with warm water.
If earwax build-up is a recurring problem, your doctor may recommend that you use an earwax removal medication, such as hydrogen peroxide. Because these drops can irritate the delicate skin of the eardrum and ear canal, use them only as directed.