Your ears need earwax to prevent water from building up in the ears, and to keep out germs, fungus, and mold. So constantly removing earwax from your inner ear means robbing your ears of protection because they lose the protective coating. That said, about 12 million Americans consult a doctor every year complaining of earwax buildup.
What is earwax?
Earwax is a mixture of dead skin, hair, and secretions from the outer ear. Earwax is normal and necessary for healthy ears because it helps to protect the ear by acting as a self-cleaning agent with antibacterial and lubricating properties. Normally, the body takes care of the excessive earwax on its own. The older earwax is constantly being moved from the ear canal to the ear opening where it dies out, a process that is assisted by the motions of the jaw such as chewing and talking.
Normally, earwax ranges from light orange to dark brown and if it’s white, green, yellow, or black, it’s advisable to see a doctor because you may be having an infection. Your earwax should also never have an odor; this may suggest an infection.
Problems with earwax
At times, the earwax can accumulate inside the ear canal to the extent that it causes an impaction and symptoms such as ringing in the ears, hearing loss, a feeling of congestion in the ear, and pain. If this is the case, it is advisable to see a doctor.
Safely removing earwax
Usually, you wipe away most of the outside earwax in the shower. In fact, if earwax is bothering you, a steamy shower is the best place to deal with the excess earwax, because wax absorbs water moisture and softens. So after your shower, you can wipe the excess earwax with a dry towel or tissue.
Another right way to go about it is by using drops of wax-dissolving agents such as hydrogen peroxide and olive oil. A doctor may also employ ear irrigation techniques whereby a jet of warm water is used to flush out the wax.
Manually removing the earwax using a cotton swab can lead to further impaction and other complications to your ear canal. You should also avoid using home oral jet irrigators and techniques such as ear candling that involve inserting devices into the ear canal.
Keep in mind that constantly removing earwax from your inner ears is not advisable. This can cause the skin to develop tiny scratches in which germs that love moist, warm, and dark places can multiply and increase the risk of an ear infection.
If wiping wax away at home isn’t helping or if you think you pushed some back into the ear, consult your doctor. They can help to remove the earwax and also determine if there are other conditions you need to look into. There are no proven ways to prevent the problem of wax impaction and people at a high risk of the problem (e.g. those who use hearing aids) are advised to consult their doctor every 6 to 12 months for routine cleaning.
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