Earwax is a natural and healthy thing to have, but sometimes it can build up, cause pain, manifest into infection and even lead to temporary hearing loss. Many people don’t realise the importance of professionally removing earwax to prevent further compaction and damage.
Read on to find out why you need earwax, what causes an excessive build-up, the symptoms, and how to care for your ear health over winter.
What is Earwax?
The medical term for earwax is cerumen, a waxy oil that glands deposit in the outer ear canal (a tube that travels from the outer ear to the eardrum).Its consistency and colour can change and be flaky or a smooth and slippery texture that varies from pale yellow to orange, brown, or grey.
Earwax protects the ear from infection, irritation, internal damage, bacteria and water. It does this by trapping dust, hair, dead skin cells, and other external substances. It also self-cleans the ear by providing lubrication to move anything it catches away from the eardrum and down the ear canal.
However, sometimes ear wax builds up and compacts inside the ear canal, putting pressure on the ear drum. This can lead to painful symptoms and hearing loss. Find out later in the article if you have any clogged ear wax symptoms.
Why You Need Earwax Removal
Many people use cotton buds to remove earwax by twisting it inside the ear and pulling it out. Although this superficially removes earwax at the very top of the ear canal, it pushes the rest of the wax down further. Over time it will compact against the ear drum.
When earwax builds and blocks the ear canal or becomes stuck, it can harden, essentially forming a wall of solid substance between the external world and your ear drum. An ear wax removal service uses a particular device to gently suck out excess or compacted earwax to clear the ear canal.
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Signs of Excess Earwax
- Coughing– If your ear is blocked up, it can push on the vagus nerve located in your inner ear. The nerve is a component of the parasympathetic nervous system, which keeps the body relaxed after a stressful event. Coughing is a reflex when earwax presses against the vagus nerve.
- Discharge– A blocked ear can cause fluid retention in the ear, draining out via the ear canal. If you notice discharge secreting from your ear or on the pillow when you wake up, it may indicate a clogged ear. It could also be a sign of infection.
- Dizziness– Although it may seem strange, your ears are essential for balance. They are one of your integral senses that takes in the external world, and if earwax is pressing on the eardrum, it blocks signals from the outside world to your brain, causing balance issues and dizziness (also known as vertigo).
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- Fullness in the ear – If there are a lot of build-ups in the ear canal, it can create a feeling of fullness. This is because there may be trapped fluid and substances inside.
- Hearing loss– Although earwax is crucial to protect the ear against infection, too much will fill the ear canal and prevent sound from reaching your eardrum. Over time, this can lead to a complete loss of hearing. However, removing the blockage will restore hearing as long as there is not too much damage.
- Infections– If you consistently get ear infections, the cause may be a blocked ear canal. These can cause ear pain, itchiness and fluid secreting from the ear.
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- Itching– If the inside of your ears feels itchy, it’s a sign of irritation because dust and bacteria are building up.
- Muffled hearing– Excess earwax impairs hearing by dulling sounds that travel from external stimuli to your eardrum.
- Odour – If an unpleasant smell comes from your ear or in your earwax, it may be because of an infection and the build-up of bacteria.
- Pain– Your eardrums are sensitive, and when compacted wax compresses against the eardrum, it may cause shooting pains.
- Tinnitus – A high-pitched ringing in your ear is called tinnitus. Everyone gets it from time to time. However, if you get it consistently or persistently, it’s a good idea to see a doctor.
What Causes Excess Earwax?
- Age– Old age dries out ear wax and causes blockage. If you are older and hard of hearing, getting your ears professionally cleaned every three-six months is a good idea.
- Ear trauma– An incident that damages or bursts the eardrum can cause permanent injury to the ear, which may result in the production of excess wax.
- Hairy ear canals – The inside of the ear canal has many tiny hairs to trap dust. However, if you have more hair than average, the strands may catch more dirt than necessary, leading to accumulated wax.
- Narrow ear canals – Smaller canals don’t give wax as much room to move through. Therefore the ear wax builds up quickly and clogs the canal.
- Naturally dry or hard earwax – Some people produce harder wax than others which will clog the ear, making it painful and difficult to hear.
- Prone to ear infections – Particular children are susceptive to ear infections.
- Swimming– Water can create excess ear wax and ear infections. So, ensure to keep your ears protected during water sports.
How to Manage Ear Health Over Winter
Many people don’t realise that cold weather affects earwax, so it is vital to take extra care of your ears during winter. Dropping temperatures harden earwax and block up the ear canal. Winter can also cause swimmer’s or surfer’s ear when the ear canal grows multiple tiny bones called exostoses.
- Eat well and exercise – Consuming nutritious foods and pumping your heart increases blood circulation to regulate ear wax production and protect your ears against infection.
- Prevent surfer’s ear – If you are outside a lot doing winter sports or surfing and swimming regularly, then wear appropriate warming headwear or a swim cap to keep them dry and from coming into contact with winter temperatures.
- Remove excess earwax on the outside– If wax accumulates on the outside of your ear, gently wipe it away with a dry cloth. Do not use earbuds, as they can push the wax in further. Instead, book an earwax removal appointment.
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- Use sound protection– There are lots of indoor activities over winter, such as gigs and Christmas parties! Loud noises can damage the ear drum and increase the chances of wax clogging the ear canal. Take earplugs, noise-cancelling headphones or earmuffs to take care of your ears.
- Wear a hat or ear muffs – Keeping your ears toasty and reducing exposure to cold air is an easy method to prevent earwax from hardening and causing hearing difficulties or hearing loss.
How Often Should I Get Earwax Removed?
A minimum of once a year is ideal. However, many people need to go every six months, and if you have narrow ear canals, produce drier wax or are elderly, doctors may recommend going once every three months.
Professionally Remove Your Earwax
Earwax plays a vital and healthy role in the body by trapping bacteria and cleaning the ear canal. However, over time it can compact, affecting your hearing and causing infection. It’s a great idea to get ear wax removed regularly to prevent blockage and take care of your ear health over winter.
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Will earwax unclog on its own?
Blocked ear wax may clear by itself, but it’s unlikely. Ears self-clean by exiting wax through the ear canal, but a significant build-up that causes clogging will need assistance by going to an ear wax removal specialist. If you do not get it properly taken out, then it can lead to temporary deafness.
What dissolves wax in ears?
Specialised ear drops from the pharmacy can disintegrate earwax. These are only suitable if there is no buildup or clogged ear canal. Otherwise, you will need an earwax removal service to unblock the ear canal. Different medicines that dissolve earwax include oil lubricants to break it up and water-based ear drops that use sodium bicarbonate, hydrogen peroxide, and acetic acid.
How do you clear a clogged ear?
If your ear feels blocked, yawning, chewing gum, or swallowing may open them up. You can pinch your nostrils, keep your mouth shut and blow through your nostrils. This is effective if your ear closes up on flights. If you get water in your ears, gently tip the affected ear to one side and use the same technique of pinching your nose and blowing. However, these techniques will not work if there is a build-up of earwax.