There are many misconceptions about ear wax. Here are a few things that you may not know.
1. It is Not Actually Wax.
The scientific name for ear wax is cerumen. It is a combination of skin cells, hair and secretions from glands in the outer ear canal. Some of the major components include fatty acids, alcohols and cholesterol. It does have a waxy consistency which helps it to perform all sorts of important functions.
2. Ear Wax Is Your Body’s Natural Defence Mechanism
Ear wax performs a valuable function. It prevents dust, dirt and other foreign bodies from reaching the inner ear. Without wax, our ears would be more vulnerable to infection and inflammation. It even acts as an insect repellant, because it contains acids that they find unpleasant.
3. Antibacterial Qualities
Ear wax acts not only as a physical barrier but also has antibacterial and anti-fungal qualities. Richard Rosenfeld from Long Island Hospital identified these when he wrote his guidelines for wax removal in 2008.
4. It is Water Soluble
Dr Rosenfeld also suggests that warm water is just as effective as over the counter remedies for removing ear wax. A few drops of water at body temperature may be able to help loosen stubborn wax. It may be that the warm water from your shower is enough to dissolve and loosen ear wax. This is also helpful when it comes to removing wax from a baby’s ears. However, this should not be accompanied by prodding or poking which can have the opposite effect.
5. It Naturally Disappears of its Own Accord
For most people, the wax naturally migrates towards the outside of your ear and needs no assistance. The daily movements of the jaw whilst chewing and talking help to facilitate this. Sometimes the addition of a few drops of natural oils such as olive or almond oil can assist with the process.
6. Causes of Ear Wax Build Up
Not all ears are created equal. In some oddly shaped ears or those with small ear canals, the natural migration of ear wax can be affected. Elsewhere some clumsy attempts at physical removal of wax with cotton buds or hair grips can cause it to become impacted and require specialist treatment. Music lovers who prefer earbuds and even “in-the-ear” hearing aid wearers are also vulnerable to wax build-up because this prevents the natural migration of ear wax. Some studies have also suggested that stress and anxiety can also contribute to the build-up of wax owing to stimulation of the sweat glands.
7. It Varies Depending on Where You’re From
One unusual fact about ear wax is that it varies depending on your ethnic origin! Monell Research Center identified that, like sweat, wax varies between races. For some, it is dry and crumbly whilst in others, it is wet and sticky. The latter is more likely to occur in those with European or African ancestry.
8. Symptoms of Ear Wax Build Up
Excess wax can result in several symptoms. These range from an earache, a feeling of fullness in the ear(s) or ringing or noises in the ear akin to tinnitus. Elsewhere, sufferers have reported decreased hearing, dizziness, coughs, fevers and unpleasant odours from the ear(s).
9. Hopi Ear Candles
Attributed to ancient medicine, even the Hopi Tribe after whom one type of ear candle was named, have denied that they ever used them at all! For those tempted to use ear candles to remove wax should take heed. The Universities of Exeter and Plymouth have described the process as “a triumph of ignorance over science” and state:
A critical assessment of the evidence shows that its mode of action is implausible and demonstrably wrong. There are no data to suggest that it is effective for any condition. Furthermore, ear candles have been associated with ear injuries. The inescapable conclusion is that ear candles do more harm than good. Their use should be discouraged.
In short, speak to your doctor or audiologist rather than trusting dubious remedies.
10. Micro-Suction – The Gold Standard for Wax Removal
With doubts as to the safety and efficacy of ear syringing and as resources have become limited, most GP surgeries no longer offer an ear wax removal service. Micro-suction is seen as the gold standard solution amongst private practice. The process is quick, clean and pain-free and because a microscope with depth perception is used to view the removal of wax, it is perfectly safe.
At the Brian Eccles Hearing Centre micro-suction ear wax removal is often available at short notice and the cost of £40.00 includes both ears if required. As professional audiologists, the practice will also be able to check for any potential hearing problems and offer help and advice.