Answer by Stephen P. Cragle, M.D., an otolaryngologist at St. Cloud ENT
Earwax is good, natural and important, but when can too much earwax become a problem?
Sometimes mistakenly viewed as a sign of poor hygiene, earwax (also known as cerumen) is produced naturally by glands in the outer ear, and ear wax plays a very important role in hearing health. It should not be viewed as something dirty that needs to be eliminated. In fact, a complete absence of earwax will result in an itchy, dry ear with a higher risk of outer ear infections.
When present in normal amounts, earwax protects the lining of the ear canal through a combination of water repellence and immune molecules (immunoglobulin A or IgA). Earwax is constantly being transported away to the outer ear, carrying sloughed-off skin, bacteria and other contaminants before they can cause problems.
However, trouble can occur when earwax is pushed down into the ear canal and becomes impacted, usually by a foreign object such as an ear swab or a hearing aid. A blocked ear canal can cause eardrum injury, hearing loss, vertigo, ringing in the ears, earaches and infections. Earwax can also accumulate in hearing aids, resulting in problems with performance.
How should I clean excess earwax?
When cleaning the ears, wash the external ear opening with a damp, soapy washcloth, but do not insert anything into the ear canal. To remove excess earwax that is causing a blockage, you can try placing a few drops of mineral or baby oil into the ear or using commercial earwax removal drops. However, if earwax buildup is preventing normal hearing, don’t try to remove it yourself. Instead, contact a hearing professional who will use the proper instruments or employ suction to remove the earwax.
Can earwax affect the effectiveness of my hearing aid?
Earwax buildup on a hearing aid not only damages the instrument but also can block sound or cause the hearing device to not fit into the ear canal properly, leading to feedback. To remove earwax from your hearing aids, use a hearing aid cleaning kit that includes a wax pick and brush, and follow the directions carefully. You should also routinely visit your hearing professional for “clean-and-check” appointments.
Find out more
If you have questions or would like to make an appointment at St. Cloud ENT, please call 320-252-0233. They are located at 1528 Northway Drive, St. Cloud, MN 56303.
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