Wax in. Wax Ouch!

By
Dr. Mandi Solat
Audiologist & Owner of Audiology Services & Hearing Aid Center

Larry and I recently received a call from a family member, asking us to bring home my otoscope to check out her ear. She explained that she was in the shower using a Q-tip when the soap slipped, she got flustered, and the Q-tip went in a little too far. Many of us know that uncomfortable feeling of ear pain! It is the type of pain that is annoying, distracting, and very localized.

The ear canal is only one inch long and curvy.  At the end of the ear canal is the ear drum, which can be incredibly painful, if perforated. Looking into her ear canal I could see it was red, swollen, and clearly irritated. However, her ear drum was still intact! She got lucky this time, but I gave her my Audiology-approved warning: If you must use Q-tips, please sit down, and focus on the task at hand!

I could badger you with many reasons as to why you should not use Q-tips, but it probably isn’t going to happen is it? Q-tips feel very satisfying and can scratch that ear itch you can’t get with your finger! So, since people are not likely to stop using them, I decided to inform you about the good, the bad, and the ugly of ear wax. 

Just to let you in on a gross secret of mine: Taking out ear wax is my favorite part of being an Audiologist!  If you think you have a build-up of wax please call our office, and we will happily schedule an appointment. 

What is ear wax anyway? What is it good for? What is the waxy positive?

  • Fun fact: Cerumen is the medical term for ear wax.
  • Newly created earwax is yellow, soft, and wet.  This is good wax! 
  • Ear wax is not a bad thing! It keeps our ears healthy, the ear canal warm and comfortable, and prevents the canal from becoming dry and itchy.
  • Wax acts as a lubricant protecting our ear canal from dirt and bugs! It keeps the bugs out by its odor, they do not like the smell of your ear wax.  
  • It protects the skin of the ear canal, which is somewhat self-cleaning, although it tends to drop the ball.
  • Earwax traps bacteria and protects against infection.


What is the waxy negative?

  • If you’re wondering why your ear is producing more wax after all these years, it could possibly be because your ear canal is narrowing, and the wax isn’t able to fall out as easily anymore. There may be too much ear hair preventing it from leaving. Another possibility is that the aging skin could lose some of its flexibility that boots that stuff out of the ear! 
  • It’s no secret that wax is one of the enemies of hearing aids. It clogs up the receivers, rendering them useless. When the ears or our hearing aids are filled with wax, the aids tend to create an annoying ‘feedback squeal’. So, don’t forget to change your wax traps, and domes if you think they may be full!
  • Audiologist Pro Tip: Do not excessively clean your ears. This can cause irritation and push wax further down the canal towards your ear drum. This is how wax becomes impacted, meaning it will not fall out on its own. Ear wax buildup can be slightly painful to remove, but whatever you do, please do not use ear candles
  • Those who use Q-tips or cotton swabs are more susceptible for impacted wax. Why? When the wax is pushed further down into the ear canal by a Q-tip, it may pass the point of no return to leave the canal on its own. Q-tips may also wipe away some of the wax that keeps your ear warm and comfortable. Without the wax, your canal could be more susceptible to being scratched or cut. 
  • When wax is pushed down further into the canal and impacted, it may cause symptoms such as:  a plugged ear feeling, decreased/muffled hearing, an earache, and tinnitus (ringing in your ears).
  • A Q-tip can also puncture or damage your eardrum. Ouch!


Treatment:

  • The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery reported more than 12 million people each year seek medical treatment for impacted earwax. That’s not including the people who see primary care physicians or audiologists.  
  • Some people have constant earwax buildup. Over the counter products work well to soften the wax or break it up. If it does not fall out naturally, you will need an appointment with Mandi to remove the wax!
  • Some recommended wax removal kits you can use at home: Ear Wax MD, and Debrox Ear Wax Removal.  Hydrogen Peroxide is also a good solution. Another option is water irrigation with a safe bulb syringe product. Do not stand when doing water irrigation as it can make you dizzy. Do not use oral jet irrigators!
  • The safest treatment: If you suspect you might have wax buildup and are feeling plugged up, call our office. We will check it out for you!  

Over the years we have learned that people put lots of different gadgets in their ears to remove their wax. Below is a list of some very intriguing wax removal tools. How many tools on this list are you guilty of trying to use to remove your wax?  

The wax removal Hall of Shame:

Keys, Pencil erasers, safety pins, bobby pins, tweezers, pen caps, dental pics, small screwdrivers, ear piercing, audio jacks, hair clips, iPhone charging cables, crochet hook, wooden match sticks, sewing needles, a barbie shoe, a tree twig, knitting needle, end of a ballpoint pen cap, paper clips, fishing hook, wire, earring screws, garlic, pretzel, pipe cleaners, eyeglass screwdriver, straw from a WD40 can, pocket knife, straws, dental tools, chicken feathers, cell phone antenna, a nail, toothpick, hair pins, pens, pencils, mechanical pencils, drill bit… 

Did you grow up with parents who used some older remedies that work when you had an ear infection? We’ve heard about olive oil, Colace, warm air, garlic, and hot pee (yes, you read that right)! 

That’s about all for wax. We really shouldn’t stick anything in our ears that is smaller than our elbows!  Wax isn’t always the ear enemy: Sometimes we are!  😊 


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Dr. Mandi Solat
Audiologist, Co-Owner
“Being an Audiologist is a calling. I am passionate about what I do because hearing loss has had a profound effect on my life. Any life changed through the gift of hearing is a personal success.”
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