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Ear wax: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About ear wax

Ear wax is a yellowish waxy substance produced by glands lining the outer ear canal. Ear wax is medically termed as ‘cerumen’. It is composed of body oils and dead cells. The wax is responsible for cleansing the ear of dust and debris which enter the ear canal. Moreover, it also protects the ear against micro organisms by trapping them within it and preventing their further passage into the middle ear.

Ear wax: Incidence, age and sex

Ear wax is a normal physiological condition occurring in all individuals. It may become problematic if it is in excess, thereby leading to the blockage of the ear canal.

Signs and symptoms of ear wax: Diagnosis

Excess accumulation of ear wax may lead to partial and rarely, complete hearing loss. However, this hearing loss is temporary and can be reversed after removal of wax. One or both ears may be affected. Sometimes, individuals may perceive a feeling of fullness in the affected ears. Itching of the ears, occasionally accompanied with pain may be encountered in some individuals.

It is advisable to consult an ear specialist who can easily assess the presence of ear wax by examining the ear with an instrument called otoscope. This instrument is put into the external ear canal to directly visualize its inside with help of illumination.

Causes and prevention of ear wax

The production of ear wax is a normal physiological process and not a diseased condition. However, excess production of ear wax and its failure of removal may result in over accumulation. Furthermore, the ear wax may also be pushed deep into the canal during the process of cleaning it out. This may further deteriorate the hearing impairment. Accumulation of ear wax can be prevented by regular self-cleaning of ears or getting the ears cleaned by an ear specialist 6 monthly or annually.

Ear wax: Complications

Persistent and longstanding accumulation of wax may cause it to harden and thereby results in difficulty in removal. Moreover excess build up of wax in ear may lead to blockage in the ear canal causing failure of conduction of sound within it. This results in hearing loss which can be temporary or permanent. Furthermore, use of pointed objects or cotton tipped applicators for removing ear wax may sometimes puncture the ear drum.

Ear wax: Treatment

Ear wax can be removed by oneself or you may even need to consult a doctor for the same. Medicated ear drops may be prescribed when the wax is hard and is not able to be removed. Alternatively mineral oil, olive oil or glycerine may also be used to soften the wax. The doctor may remove the wax by using different methods. The most common method used is irrigation of ears with warm water. Sometimes, ear suction may also be done to remove the wax. Occasionally, it may be needed to remove it manually by an ear specialist who would take out the wax using curette and microscope. All in all, accumulation of ear wax is not a very serious condition, but a preventable one.