What is Ear wax?
Ear wax is a sticky liquid secreted by cerumen glands in the ear canal. It isn’t really wax in the ‘candle wax’ sense (paraffin). Skin contains many tiny glands whose sole purpose is to secrete a variety of substances. Sebaceous glands, for example, secrete sebum, which gives skin its greasy quality. Sweat is also produced by microscopic glands. Cerumen glands are found only in the skin of the ear canals.
Why wax in the ear?
The purpose of this natural wax is to protect the ear from damage and infections. Usually a small amount of wax accumulates and then dries up and falls out of the ear canal, carrying with it unwanted dust or sand particles. Ear wax is helpful in normal amounts and serves to coat the skin of the ear canal where it acts as a temporary water repellent.
Any harm if it accumulates?
Most of the time the ear canals are self-cleaning; that is, there is a slow and orderly migration of the skin lining the ear canal from the eardrum (Tympanis membrane) to the outer opening of the ear. Old earwax is constantly being transported from the deeper areas of the ear canal out to the opening where it can be removed by cleaning by a tissue paper or towel.
Ear wax if it accumulates, can cause hearing loss, pain, and cough. Hearing loss occurs when wax completely blocks the ear canal. This prevents sound waves from easily reaching the ear drum, in exactly the same way that ear plugs (or a strategically-positioned finger) block sound. Even a small amount of wax, if wedged between the ear drum and the ear canal wall, reduces the ability of the ear drum to conduct sound. Some people form very hard wax, which can cause pain by putting pressure on sensitive ear canal walls. Finally, since the ear canal shares some of the same nerves which give sensation to the throat, ear wax can provoke a “tickle in the throat” which can then lead to cough.
Wax problem ?
While some folks have problems with ear wax throughout their lives, many people develop “problem wax” suddenly, without any obvious explanation. Similarly, a person may have wax problems with one ear and not the other.
When should ear wax be removed?
Under ideal circumstances, you should never have to clean your ear canals. However, we all know that this isn’t always the case. Ear wax may accumulate in the ear canal for a variety of reasons, including narrowing of the ear canal resulting from infections or diseases of the skin, or overproduction of wax. When wax has accumulated so much that it blocks the ear canal (and interferes with hearing), your physician may have to wash it out by syringing or using vacuum suction and remove it with special instruments. Alternatively, your physician may prescribe ear drops that are designed to soften the wax such as waxolve, otorex , soda bicarb ear drops or just olive oil
If you do try ear wax softeners without supervision, it is imperative to know that you do not have a perforated eardrum prior to using the product. Putting ear wax softeners in your ear in the presence of a perforated eardrum may cause an infection in the middle ear. Similarly, simply washing one’s ear in the presence of a perforation may start an infection. If you are uncertain whether or not you have a perforation in your eardrum, consult your ENT surgeon. Some individuals may also be hypersensitive to products designed to soften ear wax. Therefore, if pain, tenderness or a local skin rash develops, you should discontinue the use of these drops.
How to deal with ear wax?
Most primary care physicians will attempt to remove wax by irrigation (squirting warm water into the ear canal to wash out the wax) or by scooping the wax out with a curette (a very small, metal ring at the end of a metal handle). The curette technique can be very effective in skilled hands, but can be painful (and potentially damaging) in less-than-skilled hands. (Incidentally: removal of an impaction of hard wax is inevitably painful, regardless of technique.) Irrigation is always uncomfortable to some degree; some folks tolerate this better than others.
Ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctors usually remove wax by suction and/or curette techniques. This is typically done with the assistance of an operating microscope to give the doctor optimal visibility. ENT doctors have a variety of tools to remove wax, and will typically alter their methods depending on the hardness and location of the wax.
Once wax is impacted against the drum, it can be extremely painful and difficult to remove. In some circumstances, it becomes necessary to remove the wax with the aid of a binocular operating microscope and special instruments, and using vacuum suction apparatus. After cleaning the wax, apply little antibiotic ointment if there is any inflammation.
Don’t use cotton bud in the ear
Complications that arise from self-cleaning the external ear canal are common.
The misconception of needing to clean the ear canal by introducing an object into the ear is rampant. Are you one of them? Do you often clean your ears with cotton buds? They feel good after cleaning the ear. What makes them indulge? Some say the feeling they get is more than euphoric.
Removing the wax is not good for the skin and can even cause rupture of the ear drum as seen in the picture. Sometime the loose tip of the cotton bud get lodged in the ear canal.