Cerumen, also known as earwax, is naturally produced by the glands in the ears. Cerumen provides a number of functions, such as to lubricate the ear canals, and provide a sticky protective ring to keep dust and debris from getting too far down in the ear canal. Our ear wax has a bad odor and bad taste so insects don’t go there, and even has anti-fungal and anti-bacteria qualities! In other words, having earwax is a good thing, most of the time.
A lot of people are not aware that our ears naturally cleans itself of Cerumen. This process is called Epithelial Migration; whereas the outer layer of skin on the eardrum slowly migrates or moves outward, over the course of weeks; from the eardrum moving out of the ear canal. Your wax or cerumen glands are located toward the outer part of the canal, and as the skin migrates outward the earwax is also moved. Then the skin and wax move to hair follicles that allow separation and finally the wax, skin and debris will fall out of your ear naturally, mostly on your pillow at night. Did you know that?
Even though we have this nice natural ear wax removal system some instances Cerumen can accumulate in the ear and cause a blockage.
- Symptoms of a cerumen blockage include:
- Tinnitus (noise in the ear)
- Hearing loss
- Ear pressure
If a blockage occurs, it may need to be removed; other than waiting for the natural system to occur. This can be done at home or at your doctor’s office, depending on the size and severity of the blockage.
Don’t Try This At Home
People commonly use cotton swabs to try and remove earwax or dislodge a blockage. However, this can sometimes cause more problems as cotton swabs may push the blockage further down into the ear canal, blocking the ear canal or eardrum. The skin deeper in the canal gets much thinner and your nerves will let you know this is a sensitive area, and you shouldn’t be touching there. Cotton swabs themselves can also be accidentally inserted too far into the ear canal and can potentially damage your ear, including the possibility of rupturing your eardrum.
Physicians generally agree that cotton swabs are a bad idea for removing earwax and should only be used on the outer portions of your ear. You should never insert cotton swabs or any small object into your ear canal. This warning is listed on the box of cotton swabs. Cotton swabs can be used in the outer part of the ear; where the wax and skin have already separated, again, just not in the canal.
At-Home Earwax Removal Kits
Earwax removal kits can be purchased over the counter in most drug stores, or your physician may give you one.
These kits generally consist of a liquid that softens earwax and a small rubber bulb syringe. You will be given directions on how much and how often to apply the liquid to your ear canals, allowing it to sit for awhile in your ears to soften up the ear wax. Bubbling and fizzing sensations in your ears are normal with use. You will then use the bulb syringe to gently flush your ears with warm water to remove the ear wax. It may take several days to completely clear earwax blockages from your ear. There are contraindications to using these kits in some people and with some ear conditions.
Anyone that has had a perforation of their eardrum should NOT use this kit, unless otherwise directed. Before attempting at-home earwax removal, it is advised to speak with your doctor to be sure it is safe for you.
Removal at Your Doctor’s Office
If the earwax blockage is more significant, it may need to be removed in your doctor’s office. Doctors typically use one of two methods to remove earwax: irrigation, or curettage/Suction.
Irrigation is the most common method your doctor will use to remove blockages. Unlike at-home ear wax removal kits, your doctor may use stronger ear wax removal medications in conjunction with irrigation. Carbamide peroxide is typically the main ingredient in these medications.
Another common method is curettage, which involves the use of a curette. A curette is a long, curved tool that is used along with suction to gently scrape cerumen from the ear canal, removing the blockage.
We Can Help
If you experience pain or discomfort as a result of earwax, or suspect you have a blockage, please make an appointment and we can free-of-charge allow you to see down your canal using video otoscopy. We may also use other tools to check on eardrum mobility. From here we can recommend the next step which may include a visit to see your doctor to address the issue. Removing earwax doesn’t have to be painful and should bring you relief. If needed, we can provide you a list of Ear Nose and Throat doctors in the area we recommend.