Not only do our ears help us aurally perceive the world around us, but the vestibular system within our inner ears helps to keep us balanced and co-ordinated.
Despite the importance of our ears, we often neglect their care until there's a problem.
One common affliction of the ears is an earwax impaction. This is when earwax becomes lodged within the auditory canal of the outer ear, which results in a blockage.
Symptoms of earwax impaction can include:
Symptoms may not always be present in the case of an earwax impaction. Some people may only experience sudden hearing loss in one ear or a feeling of fullness in the ear.
However, dizziness and nausea may be reported, as the build up of earwax can affect the vestibular system, located in the inner ear, which is responsible for balance and spatial orientation.
If you suspect you have impacted earwax, speak to your doctor.
Earwax, which is known medically as cerumen, is an oily, waxy substance which is secreted by ceruminous glands in the ear.
The substance plays a number of roles in the ears, serving a similar purpose to mucous within the nasal passages.
Not only does earwax keep the ear canal lubricated and waterproof, but it also helps to prevent foreign particles from reaching the eardrum, which might lead to an infection.
The earwax traps particles such as dust, fungi spores and dead skin cells, which are removed when the wax falls out of the ear during sleep.
Antibacterial and antifungal properties of earwax have also been noticed, further cementing its role in the prevention of ear infections.
Earwax impaction is caused by an excessive build up of earwax.
Most cases of this condition are caused by attempts to remove excessive earwax from the ear canal.
Using cotton buds in your ears will do very little to alleviate your condition and can even make things worse. Cotton buds push the earwax deeper into your ear and closer towards your ear drum. Moreover, pushing the cotton bud too far can rupture the delicate membrane of the ear drum.
In the ageing populous, earwax impaction is common. As we age, our earwax becomes drier and hardened, making it more difficult for the body to remove.
Using hearing aids, ear plugs and earphones (especially the in-ear variety) increase your risk of earwax impaction, as these devices can push earwax deeper into the ear.
If you have concerns about the build up of earwax, speak to your GP.
Do not attempt to remove impacted earwax using cotton buds, finger nails, tooth picks or any other long, thin foreign body. These can scratch the delicate skin of your ear canal, which can increase your risk of an ear infection.
Inserting things into your ear to fish out the lodged ear wax is likely to only make the matter worse, either by further compacting the earwax or accidentally puncturing your ear drum - also known as a perforated ear drum.
Some GP surgeries can remove earwax using one of two treatments:
These treatments are usually painless and are often effective, relieving the symptoms as soon as the earwax is removed.
Ear drops may need to be used for up to 5 days after having your ear(s) irrigated.
If your GP practice cannot offer these treatments, an over-the-counter treatment, such as ear drops, can be used instead.
Depending on the ingredients, ear drops can either loosen stubborn earwax which has become lodged, making it easier for the body to remove, or simply break the earwax down. Ear drops are inexpensive and available without a prescription from your local pharmacist.
You can also buy ear drops online from Prescription Doctor. Order before 3pm weekdays, and we'll dispatch your item the same day, aimed for a next day delivery.
One popular treatment for the removal of earwax is known as "Ear Candling". This is a procedure in which a tapered candle is inserted into the ear and lit. It is often touted as a natural remedy for ear wax, and many proponents of this method claim it is effective at removing earwax and "toxins" from the ear.
Not only is candling ineffective at removing earwax, the procedure is very dangerous and can lead to burning of the skin and hair, unnecessary pain and, worse still, contribute to the condition by introducing more wax into the ear and increasing the risk of developing an ear infection.
Some people's ears naturally produce more earwax than others, which can increase the risk of earwax impaction and affect hearing.
If you experience excessive earwax regularly, you should speak to your doctor or a pharmacist for suitable advice.
Your doctor may suggest using ear drops regularly to maintain the amount of earwax in your ears.
Earwax darkens the longer it stays in your ear. The reason it darkens is due to the dirt and dust it's collected and prevented from reaching your eardrum.
Fresh earwax is usually yellow or light orange.
Black earwax is often impacted ear wax.
There's generally no need to clear out earwax unless it's causing you a significant problem.
The wax is there to protect your inner ear from infection. Dirt, pollen and other particulates get trapped in the wax, which then falls out during your sleep.
If you notice earwax on the outside of your ear, you can use a cloth soaked in warm water to wipe it away. The warm water will help to melt the earwax, making it easier to clean.
Generally, you shouldn't need to continuously clean the earwax out of your ear. If you find that your ears produce an excessive amount of earwax, or you are experiencing the symptoms of earwax impaction, you should seek advice from your doctor.
Impacted earwax can cause temporary hearing loss. However, hearing usually returns to normal once the impaction has been cleared.
If the impaction is not cleared, worsens, or if you use cotton buds to try to remove the wax, there is an increased risk of permanent hearing loss.
There are many things you can do to prevent impacted earwax.
Firstly, avoid sticking anything into your ear canal, including cotton buds.
If you wear in-hear style earphones, swap them for over-ear headphones which don't go into your ear.
Use ear drops regularly to prevent excess ear wax from building up. This is especially important if you use a hearing aid.
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