Ear wax, also known as cerumen, is a substance that is naturally produced by the ear. It is a mixture of sweat, dead skin cells, and secretions from glands in the ear canal. Ear wax is usually harmless and serves an essential purpose in protecting the ear from infection and damage.
However, sometimes excessive ear wax can cause problems, leading to discomfort and even hearing loss. In this article, we will discuss ear wax in more detail, including its functions, how to remove it safely, and when to seek medical attention.
Functions of Ear Wax
Ear wax has several functions, including:
- Protecting the ear canal: Ear wax serves as a protective barrier between the ear canal and the outside world. It helps to prevent dirt, dust, and other foreign particles from entering the ear and potentially causing an infection.
- Lubricating the ear canal: Ear wax helps to keep the skin of the ear canal moisturized and lubricated. This can prevent itching and irritation.
- Trapping bacteria and other harmful particles: Ear wax contains chemicals that can kill bacteria and other harmful particles, helping to keep the ear canal clean and healthy.
Removing Ear Wax Safely
In most cases, ear wax does not need to be removed, as the body naturally eliminates it over time. However, in some cases, excessive ear wax can build up and cause problems. If you experience symptoms such as earache, ear fullness, ringing in the ear, or temporary hearing loss, you may need to remove excess ear wax. Here are some tips for removing ear wax safely:
- Avoid using cotton swabs or other objects in the ear canal. Using cotton swabs or other objects in the ear canal can push ear wax deeper into the ear and potentially damage the ear canal or eardrum.
- Use ear drops. Over-the-counter ear drops can be used to soften ear wax, making it easier to remove. Follow the instructions on the package carefully and avoid using ear drops if you have a perforated eardrum or other ear problems.
- Irrigate the ear. Irrigating the ear with warm water can help to flush out ear wax. You can use a rubber bulb syringe or an irrigation kit for this purpose. However, if you have a history of ear infections or a perforated eardrum, avoid irrigating your ear.
When to Seek Medical Attention
In some cases, ear wax buildup can cause significant problems, such as hearing loss, ear infection, or eardrum damage. If you experience any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention:
- Severe pain in the ear
- Drainage from the ear
- Sudden hearing loss
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ear)
Your doctor may use a specialized tool called an otoscope to examine your ear and determine if you have excess ear wax. They may also recommend a procedure called ear syringing, which uses a syringe to flush out ear wax.
Ear wax is a natural substance that helps to protect the ear canal from infection and damage. While most people do not need to remove ear wax, excessive buildup can cause problems. Follow the tips above for removing ear wax safely, and seek medical attention if you experience severe symptoms or have a history of ear problems. If you think you may need help removing ear wax from your ears, please contact our hearing practice today.