Did you know that cerumen (more lovingly known as earwax) is actually a good thing? It’s part of the body’s natural system of defense. Its purpose is to protect the ear canal by catching dirt, slowing the growth of bacteria, repelling water and protecting sensitive skin. But let’s admit it – first sign of the yellow stuff and most of us break out the cotton swab, ignoring the message on the box that its only meant to be used on the outside of the ear. Why is this a problem?
When used on the inside of the ear, cotton swabs can push ear wax deeper into the ear canal, packing it up against the eardrum. This impaction prevents the eardrum from moving properly and hearing loss can occur. The built up wax can also trap water against the eardrum. In the U.S., it’s estimated that 10 per cent of children and up to 57 per cent of elderly adults in nursing homes have some form of cerumen impaction. Regular use of cotton swabs also causes dry skin in the ear canal, which results in itching and cracks where bacteria can grow. This creates an inflammation and infection in the canal known as Swimmer’s Ear. An over-zealous cotton swabber could even damage or rupture his eardrum by pushing the swab too far into the canal.
So how can we manage earwax? It’s best to ask your audiologist for advice, because several suggestions exist – particularly on the web – that have found to be unsafe or ineffective (ear candling is one example). However, the Mayo Clinic offers some simple, safe suggestions on their site. The bottom line is to never, ever attempt to dig wax out.
If you have questions about managing ear wax, or suspect you suffer from ear wax impaction, contact Kawartha Hearing Care Inc. for an assessment and advice. With many years of experience, owner and audiologist Doran Hayes has seen a lot of the yellow stuff! Call 705-320-9244 to connect to her caring, friendly offices in Bobcaygeon or Lindsay.