Ear Wax FAQs
Earwax is created far under the skin of the ear canal by specialised glands known as cerumen glands. These are linked to cerumen ducts that transport the earwax to the skin surface where multiple cerumen pores deposit it in the ear canal.
Earwax has an extremely vital function as it protects our ears by identifying and then capturing foreign bodies. Travelling outwards, the earwax removes dead skin cells, microbial organisms, and other unwanted items from the ear canal.
This is a perfectly normal and essential process that serves to sustain normal pH levels, traps dust and dirt, and prevents insects from entering the ear.
What can we do when there is too much earwax?
Without treatment, earwax will accumulate, which can make your ears feel blocked, reduce your hearing, and make it increasingly difficult to extract. At its most extreme, earwax blockage can result in pain and a feeling of sustained pressure within the ear. Sometimes the blockage can be so bad that this pressure and pain never ends.
Common signs and symptoms
Earwax can be especially problematic for those who need to wear hearing aids ad it can cause these aids to emit loud and uncontrollable whistles, or stop them from working altogether. Above are pictures comparing an ear canal packed with earwax to one that is clear and enables sound to freely travel to the eardrum.
To ensure the sounds generated by hearing aids can pass unimpeded through the ear canal and whistling ceases, the earwax must be removed.
- Itchy ears
- Hearing loss
- Tinnitus (noises in the ear)
- Hollow or deep sounding voice
- Continual or sporadic whistle from hearing aids
If you are someone who adopts the common habit of using plastic cotton buds to clean your ears, you need to think again as otolaryngology academies, who study throat and ear diseases, advise against this. Their guidelines on ear care stress the importance of avoiding overzealous DIY cleaning of the ears, particularly the insertion of different items into the ears. For example, the use of cotton buds can be potentially damaging as they tend to push excess wax further into the ear rather than remove it.
The recommendation of otolaryngology academies is to ask specialised audiologists to clean your ears. This is where we can help.
The Benefits of Earwax
If there is insufficient wax in your ear canal, you may experience a dry, itching sensation in your ears. This is because earwax is needed to perform the following functions:
- Capture dust and slow-growing bacteria
- Prevent water from irritating the skin of the ear canal
- Stop dust and bacteria from passing into and harming the ear
You need a certain amount of wax in your ears to ensure they stay clean and healthy. Any surplus wax normally leaves the atrial channel, as this is the location to which cells usually migrate. Jaw movements such as talking and chewing can help in removing the wax, which will simply fall out of the ear once it reaches the external part of the ear or be removed while showering or bathing. For some people, however, earwax gradually accumulates over time and the excess needs to be removed by a specialist. Like teeth, ears require an annual check-up to ensure they are functioning well and do not impede our quality of life.
The elderly population are especially susceptible to a build-up of earwax, particularly those residing in nursing homes and assisted living centres. Although it seems a simple problem, it may lead to numerous hearing-related difficulties. It is estimated that roughly two-thirds of nursing home residents suffer from excessive earwax, a condition also known as impaction.
In addition to hearing loss, excessive earwax may also lead to tinnitus (a ringing sound in the ear). It can also increase the incidence of vertigo, elevating the risk of falls. Research also suggests there may be a correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline.
Approximately 66% of people attending clinics due to hearing loss are suffering from an excessive build-up of earwax.
Although most people may not know what tinnitus is, a large number have to cope with this condition each day and find ways to manage their lives. We have therefore collated some valuable information on what tinnitus is, its causes, its treatment, and a detailed synopsis of research in this area.
What is Tinnitus?
As surprising as it may seem, the first important point to make is that tinnitus in itself is not a disease; it is an indicator of the actual problem. Tinnitus is characterised as a constant ringing sound in the ears. This is an uncomfortable feeling that can impede a person’s ability to hear.
Common sounds heard in the ears include:
What causes Tinnitus?
Although a precise cause is difficult to identify as it is a symptom rather than a disease, it is typically associated with hearing difficulties or the absence of an hearing aid. Recent research on the causes of tinnitus indicates that it occurs when auditory processing is no longer functioning properly due to overstimulation of the centre of the brain, resulting in hearing loss. However, it is difficult to measure hearing loss precisely.
The condition can be exacerbated by the following:
- Ear infections
- Excessive wax in the ears
- Hearing loss caused by noise
- Use of medications
- Head trauma
- Heart disease
- Neck trauma
- Acoustic neuroma
- Misalignment of the jaw
Research on tinnitus
Recent research on tinnitus indicates that the noises and sounds that initiate it may be sporadic or continuous. Many people with the condition feel that the level of background noise is too low and therefore uncomfortable. The hissing noise is usually heard at night when background sounds are at a minimum.
There have also been reports of sufferers being able to hear their heart beat in synchrony with other noises. Known as Pulsatile Tinnitus, this can be troublesome and distracting in their everyday lives. It can also result in disrupted sleep. In the long term, a failure to diagnose tinnitus can lead to the development of severe psychological problems.
How can tinnitus be treated?
In contrast to what is commonly believed, tinnitus can be effectively treated if it is diagnosed and addressed at an early stage. Therefore, although it is impossible to know when and how this condition arises, you should seek medical advice as soon as you become aware of any symptom. Management of the condition will involve controlling the extent to which you are exposed to different types of sounds. Various protocols must therefore be adhered to.