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What is Ear Wax?

“How much wax can you see?”

Is often the first question my patients ask when I look into their ear.

There’s a huge fascination with earwax; many people think it should be removed by any means possible. Some YouTube videos showing wax removal attract millions of interested viewers, but does wax always need to be taken out, or are there benefits of having wax in the ear?

As an Audiologist I’m always keen to promote the positives of wax. Yes, in some cases a build-up in the ear can have some unwanted effects and requires removal, but overall earwax is a good thing, and in most cases should be left where it is… in the ear!

 

So, why do we have wax in the first place and what benefits does it have? These are the key facts:

  • Earwax helps to lubricate the ear, which in turn helps move any debris (dead skin) out of the ear.
  • Ear wax can act as a natural defence against some infections. It helps slow the growth of bacteria due to it’s anti bacterial/fungal properties.
  • It protects the sensitive skin in the ear canal from irritation to water
  • Earwax stops debris, dirt and any other foreign objects (e.g insects) making their way into the ear.

Interestingly wax is not the same for everyone. The amount we produce, the colour and consistency are all determined genetically. Some people over produce wax, and excessive wax can become troublesome. So when should we start thinking about removing wax and how can this be done?

 

If you have too much wax, You will likely have the following symptoms:

  • Pain or discomfort in the ear
  • Itchiness
  • Blocked sensation, similar to being underwater
  • Hearing may sound reduced or dull
  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in the ear (tinnitus)
  • Ear infection

 

Of course having one or more of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have too much wax, but you should definitely get your ears checked by an audiologist or your.

If you have had your ears checked and you do indeed have too much wax, there are a couple of options, as follows:

Wax ear drops

Eardrops can help soften the wax which in turn helps it out the ear. Generally there are two types of drops available, either Olive oil or Sodium bicarbonate based drops. Olive oil drops are very good at softening wax, while bicarbonate drops can help dissolve the wax.

Earwax removal

In many cases using wax drops will be sufficient to remove the wax, but in some cases wax removal needs to be carried out. Wax can be removed in various ways and should be done by a professional trained in wax removal such as an Audiologist or ENT doctor. The two most common techniques include wax syringing and wax microsuction. In our clinic we tend to advise wax microsuction, as this can be carried out even if there is damage to the eardrum. Microsuction is widely thought to be less painful, and there’s also less chance of causing any damage to the ear.

 

At Drummond Hearing we offer Microsuction Ear Wax removal in our London clinic. Learn more.