We often clean our ears and find a greasy substance coming out of ear canals. This greasy substance is called ear wax, also known as cerumen. This ear wax is produced within our ear canals in the outer one-third of it and slowly migrates outward towards the outer opening of the ear canal.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF EAR WAX?
Ear wax is very important for the protection of our ear canal. It serves protective function by trapping dust particles and other small particles and not allowing them to reach the ear drum where they can cause direct damage or cause infection.
It also provides lubrication to the skin of the ear canal and prevents drying out and irritation of the ear canal.
Ear wax also has antibacterial properties because it prevents the growth of many bacteria species within the ear canal and also the growth of fungi. This is particularly important because it helps in avoiding infection and damage to the ear drum and the middle and inner ear.
EAR CANAL BLOCKADE BY WAX
This is also referred to as impacted ear wax within the ear canal. As mentioned, ear wax is produced only by the outer one third of the ear canal, so how does this ear wax became impacted and caused blocakage? Normally, the ear wax is slowly being moved out of the ear canal, it eventually dries up and falls out. However with the usage of cotton buds, sticks or rolled napkins in the attempt to “clean” our ear, they may actually causes the ear wax to move inside of the ear canal and closer to the ear drum.
Hearing aid users and those using earplugs are more vulnerable to ear wax blockage. The narrowest part of the ear canal known as the isthmus is most prone to blockage. Blockage produced by ear wax produces certain symptoms which might be reported by the patient to the health-care professional. These symptoms include:
- Pain in ear
- Partial hearing loss
- Sensation of ear fullness
COMMON COMPLICATIONS ASSOCIATED WITH EAR WAX IMPACTION
- Ear canal infection
- Middle ear infection
- Perforation of eardrum
- Acoustic trauma
TREATMENT OF EAR WAX BLOCKADE
Special ear drops to soften the wax are poured into the affected ear and then allowed to drain out after few minutes. This helps to loosen the wax within the ear canal by softening it which then might naturally be expelled from the ear canal. Ear drops are contraindicated in the case of perforated eardrum.
Alternatively, irrigation of the ear by warm water by skilled health-care professional using a syringe or other specialized means can remove impacted wax from the ear canal. The water is poured into the ear canal and allowed to flow and ideally the wax should comes out along with the exiting water. It is a painless procedure.
Other special treatments include micro-suction and aural toilet. In case of very young children, in order to remove hard impacted ear wax, some may require the procedure to be done under general anesthesia as to avoid the child struggling and causing unnecessary injury to the ear canal.
It is important to realize that the “cleaning” measures we take can be dangerous and may result in the wax moving deeper and blocking the ear canal.
Ear should be kept dry. After swimming or bath, towel and head tilting to expel the water from the ear canal are effective.
If the wax has accumulated and there is a sense of fullness in the ear, do get it check by your health care professional such as the general practitioner, audiologist or ENT doctors. They will be able to give you an advice and recommendation on what next to be done.