Ear Wax Removal/Ear Cleaning
Here at Evergreen Audiology, we offer earwax removal and ear cleaning services. However, there are a few things to remember about earwax before we rush to clean it out of our ears.
Earwax, or “cerumen,” is actually the ear’s self-produced cleaning substance. It is made up of oil, sweat, dirt and dead skin cells. While that may sound gross, this combination of substances is sticky enough to trap foreign materials while also being slippery enough to work its way out of the ear canal.
Three Main Functions of Earwax
Earwax is a necessary part of a healthy-functioning ear, serving three main functions. First, earwax keeps the ears clean. Its sticky texture traps things like dirt, smoke, smog and bacteria before they can make their way to the more sensitive parts of the ear. Second, it helps maintain the right balance of moisture in the ear canal, keeping the skin from getting dry and irritated. Dry, flaky skin, in addition to being uncomfortable and itchy, is also more vulnerable to infection. And third, it protects the ears from bugs. Bugs find the smell of earwax unpleasant, and should they make their way into the ear canal anyways, the earwax traps them and keeps them from reaching the eardrum.
A Variety of Cerumen Types
While all people produce earwax, there are a few varieties. The two main types are wet and dry, and they are different between populations. African and Caucasian populations have wet earwax, while dry earwax is shared by Asian, Pacific Islander and Native American populations. Young people’s earwax tends to be lighter in color than that of older folks, whose earwax can be brown, gray or even black. None of these colors indicate a problem, but if you notice red in your earwax you should seek immediate medical attention. Red indicates that there is blood in your earwax, which likely indicates injury or illness.
If Earwax Is Necessary, Why Clean it Out?
Earwax, under most circumstances, should be left alone to serve its function in the ear and work itself out to be replaced by fresh earwax. Usually, jaw movements from talking and chewing are enough to encourage old earwax to evacuate the ears. Some people have impacted earwax from using cotton swabs, or overproduction of earwax due to over-frequent home cleaning practices. If you have hearing loss as a result of earwax accumulation, it should be removed by a professional like Dr. Lawson, who can also make recommendations about how to care for your ears into the future.
No Swabs, No Candles
As alluded to above, the use of cotton swabs to remove earwax is highly discouraged. You may pull the cotton swab out of your ear and see earwax on it, taking this as evidence that you have successfully cleaned your ear. Unfortunately, you have likely pushed more earwax deeper into your ear canal than you have removed on the cotton swab. Over time, this will result in impacted earwax that will need to be removed by a doctor, like Dr. Lawson here at Evergreen Audiology. You might have impacted earwax if you feel a “fullness” in your ears, or a new sense of hearing loss and/or tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
Ear candles are also to be avoided. While some people believe they “suck” the earwax out of our ears, the wax that you see inside the candle at the end is actually from the candle itself. Rather than clean the ears, the ear candles actually deposit smoke into the ear canals, which can feel pleasant in the moment but are ultimately destructive, having a drying effect and boosting earwax production. What’s more, if the suction action they are purported to have were real, there would be an extreme risk of collapsing the eardrum as a result of the pressure difference.
Just say no to the swabs and the candles!
If you feel you might have impacted earwax or need a professional ear cleaning, you could be correct. Dr. Lawson can determine the right course of action, and if necessary we can professionally and safely clean your ears here at Evergreen Audiology.