Managing ear wax

People commonly ask audiologists and physicians why their ears have cerumen, or wax. Many would like to eliminate it, asking for methods of cleaning the ears at home. We would like to clarify some facts and misconceptions about this often unpleasant topic.

Research has found that cerumen, or ear wax, is procuded as a skin secretion in the ear canal, particularly the outer portion, where the skin has apocrine and sebaceous glands. This material, which typically includes skin cells, may be dark brown or yellowish tan in color and wet or dry, depending on many factors, including ethnicity. The purposes of the cerumen include maintaining the pH of the canal, lubricating the skin and providing protection against many bacteria, viruses, fungi and even insects, which would otherwise find the warm, damp canal environment particularly inviting. Ear wax, in moderation, is a good thing.

Cerumen becomes a problem in some patients when it accumulates and occludes the external ear canal, often causing decreases in hearing, throat irritation, even dizziness. Excessive wax may even exacerbate tinnitus by decreasing ambient hearing. It may also interfere with hearing aid function.

Home wax removal is not recommended. Commercially available drops may be effective in softening the wax, but rarely remove it. The scope of practice of audiologists, otolaryngologists, primary care physicians and nurses includes cerumen management. Methods include irrigation (not generally recommended by many professionals), curetting (loops or spoons designed to directly remove wax), and suction, depending on the depth and consistency of the wax. Ear Candling is to be avoided at all costs. This practice is useless at best and dangerous at worst.

If you suspect you or a loved one has excessive ear wax, please allow a physician or audiologist to evaluate your ears and remove it appropriately IF NECESSARY!

Stay on a clear path to good hearing and health!