November 2012 Wellness Column
Earwax. Great table topic, right? Maybe not, but earwax is a natural, normal part of your body. It helps clean and lubricate your ears. Without it, your ears would become dry and itchy and pretty uncomfortable.
Earwax forms in glands located in the skin of the outer part of your ears. It traps dust and dirt, and gradually transports these "invaders," along with skin cells, to the ear opening. There, it flakes and falls out or gets washed out by you. When all goes well, you don't even need to clean your ear canals. Just wash your outer ears with soap and water when taking a shower or bath.1,2
But if earwax builds up, it's time to take action. You may have symptoms such as a feeling of fullness, ringing, discharge, itching, odor, or partial hearing loss.1 Here's another clue: Your family members have started teasing, "Didn't you hear me? Get the wax outta your ears!"
Start by cleaning the external ear with a cloth, but don't insert anything, such as a cotton-tipped applicator, bobby pin, piece of paper - or even your finger - into your ear canal. This does just the opposite of what you intend: It pushes wax deeper into your ear canal and can cause infection. You can also damage the ear canal or eardrum.2 Whatever you do, don't try a product called ear candles for extracting earwax. These involve inserting a cone-type device into the ear canal and setting the other end on fire! They can cause serious injury. 1,2
What if you still have symptoms? In most cases, home treatments to soften wax work just fine. I can direct you to some possible options in our store.
At home, lie on your side and deposit a few drops of one of these products in your ear. If this alone doesn't work, you can try ear syringing. This involves suctioning the wax out of your ears. Again, I can help you find these ear syringes here in our store. They work best if you put water, saline, or wax dissolving drops in the ear canal about 15-30 minutes beforehand.1
Before trying any of these products, it's best to discuss it with your doctor.2 If you have diabetes, a weakened immune system, perforated eardrum, or tube in your eardrum, a doctor should manually remove any built-up earwax, using special devices such as graspers and suction. A special ear, nose, and throat doctor called an otolaryngologist may be the best person for the job, especially if you have a narrow ear canal. 1 Occasionally, you may also need antibiotic eardrops for an infection.2
New nickname, Shrek? No worries. Some people make more earwax than others.2 If needed, you can see your doctor for preventive cleaning as often as every 6 to 12 months. 1
Nothing herein constitutes medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, or is a substitute for professional advice. You should always seek the advice of your physician or other medical professional if you have questions or concerns about a medical condition.
American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery: "Earwax." Available at: http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/earwax.cfm. Accessed April 18, 2012.
Nemours Foundation: "Dealing With Earwax." Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/eyes/earwax.html?tracking=P_RelatedArticle. Accessed April 18, 2012.
Terrell Milby, Pharmacist