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Everything you need to know about Ear Wax!

Ear wax, also known as cerumen, is a natural substance produced by the glands in our ear canals. While it may seem like an insignificant bodily secretion, ear wax plays a crucial role in maintaining ear health and protecting the delicate structures within.

Composition of Ear Wax:
Ear wax is primarily composed of a mixture of secretions from two types of glands: ceruminous glands and sebaceous glands. Ceruminous glands, found in the outer part of the ear canal, produce a waxy substance called cerumen. Sebaceous glands, on the other hand, contribute oily secretions to the mix. Together, these components create a sticky and protective substance that lines the ear canal.

Implications of Ear Wax Impaction:
In some cases, ear wax can become excessively hard and accumulate in the ear canal, leading to a condition known as cerumen impaction. This can occur due to various factors, including the use of cotton swabs (Q-tips), hearing aids, or earplugs, which can push the wax deeper into the canal. When ear wax hardens and blocks the ear canal, it can cause several uncomfortable symptoms, such as:

1. Reduced hearing: The blockage can interfere with sound transmission, resulting in temporary hearing loss or muffled sounds.
2. Earache: The pressure exerted by the hardened wax can cause pain or discomfort in the affected ear.
3. Tinnitus: Some individuals may experience ringing or buzzing sounds in their ears due to the blockage.
4. Dizziness: In rare cases, cerumen impaction can lead to dizziness or a sense of imbalance.

Professional Cleaning of Ear Wax:

When ear wax becomes impacted and causes discomfort or hearing difficulties, it is advisable to seek professional assistance for safe and effective removal. Ear cleaning procedures should always be performed by trained healthcare providers, such as audiologists or ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists. They employ various methods to clean the ear canal, including:

1. Irrigation: This technique involves using a syringe or specialized equipment to flush warm water or saline solution into the ear canal, dislodging and flushing out the hardened wax.
2. Manual Removal: In some cases, a healthcare professional may use specialized tools, such as curettes or suction devices, to carefully extract the impacted wax.
3. Micro suction: This method utilizes a gentle suction device to remove the wax without the need for water irrigation.

It is important to note that attempting to clean the ear canal at home using cotton swabs or other objects can be dangerous and may push the wax deeper, potentially causing injury or damage to the ear.
Ear wax, though often overlooked, serves a vital purpose in protecting our ears. However, when it becomes excessively hard and blocks the ear canal, it can lead to discomfort and hearing difficulties. Seeking professional assistance for ear wax removal is crucial to ensure safe and effective cleaning. By understanding the composition of ear wax and the implications of its hardening, we can prioritize ear health and maintain optimal hearing abilities.

Written by: Brittany Bowen, CDA

Are you in the Forest Hill or Toronto area and have questions about your hearing? Stop by Toronto Hearing Health Clinic and say hello, we would love to meet you!

References:
1. American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation. (2021). Earwax and Care. Retrieved from https://www.enthealth.org/conditions/earwax-and-care/
2. Mayo Clinic. (2021). Earwax Blockage. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/earwax-blockage/symptoms-causes/syc-20353004
3. NHS. (2019). Earwax Build-up. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/earwax-build-up/

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