Okay, so ear wax isn't dinner table conversation. It's kind of gross, but what most folks don't realize is that ear wax, called cerumen by professionals, is not only natural, it's beneficial.
It's supposed to be there!
What Is Ear Wax?
It's an oily, brown substance that collects in the ear canals. Ear wax is produced by tiny glands that line the ear canal. For some people, the over-production of ear wax can cause hearing problems - especially when the cerumen becomes impacted - pressed into a large glob that collects within the ear canal.
Here's the thing: ear wax is nature's way of keeping the ear canal free of dust, grime and debris that we pick up throughout the day simply going about our lives. This minute debris would harm the delicate hearing mechanism if it weren't trapped by the oily cerumen. In other words, ear wax performs an important health function - protecting the hearing mechanism from gunk.
Too much cerumen can cause problems. If your body produces too much cerumen, you may develop hearing loss - even at an early age. The stuff is particularly troublesome for people who wear hearing aids.
Ear wax can easily enter the microphone of a hearing aid, totally gumming up the works and requiring the hearing aid to undergo repairs at the factory. Ear wax, when build up occurs, can actually work its way into the circuitry of some hearing devices requiring an almost top-down rebuild, or more often, a replacement for the non-functioning unit.
So, if your ears do produce too much cerumen AND you wear hearing aids, ear hygiene takes on special importance. At least some of it should be removed to protect the hearing aid - something you don't want to replace.
Weren't we all taught to clean our ears with cotton swabs? Most of my patients still employ this method of ear hygiene not knowing that, in fact, they're doing more damage than good.
DO NOT USE COTTON SWABS TO CLEAN YOUR EARS.
First, a cotton swab can easily puncture the ear drum, which is at the end of the ear canal and a punctured ear drum is almost sure to cause major hearing loss, hearing distortion and a whole lot of regret. Don't do it.
Another consequence? Cotton swabs actually push that minute debris further into the ear canal and, over time, you could find yourself with a pile of dust, dander and dirt collecting directly in front of the ear drum. No wonder you can't hear the TV.
Must of us can get by with a good washcloth scrubbing of the pina - the ear cup. This is where the ear ultimately deposits ear canal debris. Avoid scrubbing the ear canal itself. This can dry out the canal, causing ear itch.
If the daily scrubbing doesn't solve the problem, purchase an over-the-counter ear cleaning kit consisting of an ear wax softener and a rubber irrigation bulb used to flush out excess ear wax and the other stuff that collects in the ear canal. Don't overuse these products, however. Again, if you don't have some ear wax in place, you may develop itchy ear syndrome and, you won't be enjoying the benefits that cerumen provides.
See A Hearing Specialist
If the problem persists, even after good home care, see a hearing professional. There are prescription medications that can be used to keep the ear canal open and lubricated without too much ear wax.
If you're in the process of purchasing a pair of hearing aids, be sure to discuss the proper cleaning of the hearing aids and your ear canals. Hearing aids should be wiped cleaned daily with a soft cloth. And, if you notice that your hearing aids don't seem to be working as well as they did when you first got them, again, see a hearing professional.
It's quite possible that cerumen has clogged your hearing aid microphone, which should be cleaned by a hearing aid practitioner who works with these delicate machines everyday. It's not something you should try to fix yourself with a screwdriver and ball peen hammer. If you don't know what you're doing with your hearing aids, don't do it.
Let the professionals handle it.
Clean your outer ear daily and keep cotton swabs out of your ear canal. Remember the benefits of ear wax, keep your hearing aids clean and, if your run into a problem, see your hearing aid professional.
You may now go back to eating dinner.