Removing Ear Wax (Ear Cleaning)

What Is Ear Wax? How Ear Cleaning Can Remove It

Pediatrician checking ear of boy in examination room
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When I was a child, I found the process of removing ear wax fascinating. My doctor cleaned it out regularly by suctioning. It didn't hurt, and I was fascinated by the sight of the wax coming out. 

Ear wax is normal and healthy and is thought to be one way the ear protects itself from harmful bacteria and dirt. Everyone makes ear wax, although some people make more than others. Sweat glands inside the outer ear canal produce it.

The wax "oils" ear canal tissues and protects the eardrum. 

Ear Cleaning to Remove the Wax

The healthy ear cleans itself. Tiny hairs lining the ear canal remove the wax slowly, but too much ear wax can create a blockage that may lead to temporary hearing loss. 

When you clean your ear, you're removing wax that has traveled far from its point of origin within the ear. But there's no need to put a finger, swab, or anything else into the ear canal. First of all, it can hurt! More important, it may push the wax in deeper.

So how can you remove the wax? At home, you can use an over-the-counter (OTC) wax softener to clean your ears. But don't do this if you're experiencing any hearing loss or ear pain, dizziness, or discharge. Instead, contact your doctor to have your ears examined.

Problems Associated with Deep Ear Wax

Deep-seated ear wax can cause pain, a feeling of pressure or fullness, or noise in the ear (tinnitus).

It can also lead to hearing loss. See a doctor, nurse, or audiologist to determine if your ear wax is deep. If it's very deep, a special microscope can be used to remove it.

Impacted Ear Wax

Blocked or impacted ear wax may be due to overzealous ear cleaning, but it can happen even if you don't stick anything in your ear, particularly as you age.

Older ears don't clean themselves as effectively as younger ones, and age-related health problems or hearing aids might make it harder for older people's ears to remove ear wax.

  • For example, if you're 70 years old and use hearing aids, you might need a doctor to help remove wax from your ears every year or two.

Safe Ear Cleaning for Deep Wax Removal

The doctor should always view the area to be cleaned using a strong light. Some doctors use pressurized water to remove deep wax. Other options include using a wire loop or vacuuming the ear with light suction to remove the wax gently. 

"What Else Should I Know?"

Unless you're certain that your ear wax isn't deep, always start by checking with your doctor. Describe your ear wax symptoms, and ask about the method of ear cleaning that's best for you. He or she will tell you if you can try a home-removal method or should come in for an examination.

Related on About.com: Alt Medicine: Ear Candling
 

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