What is Earwax?
Cerumen is the medical term for simple earwax. All species in the mammalian kingdom produce earwax. Why? Because it functions as a lubricant, protection of ear canal from bacteria, fungus or even insects. Earwax even protects against water. The earwax substance is hydrophobic (water repel)and is continuously produced.
Earwax is basically dead skin cells, sebum from sebaceous glands, hair and an assortment of other biochemicals.
Interestingly there are two types of earwax that are determined by genetics. The two types are dry and wet earwax, European and African descents produce the wet type and this is a dominant gene expression. The color of the ear wax is honey-brown, dark orange or darker brown and is moist. The dry type is a recessive characteristic expression that is found in a=Asians and Native Americans. This earwax is flaky and gray. The two types differ in chemical make up of the lipid content. Wet earwax is 50% lipids while dry only has 20% lipids.
Earwax is cleared from the canal by movement of the jaw when chewing and head movement. Usually it will migrate towards the outer ear over time.
Earwax provides lubrication of the ear canal to keep it from completely drying out. Sebum is responsible for this. Anti-microbial properties are not well known but it is suggested that certain strains of bacteria are unable to thrive in the presence of earwax.
Ear Wax Impaction
Many people have issues with the overproduction of earwax. Excessive earwax can build up to the point of decreasing hearing, completely blocking the ear canal, impeding sound, ear infection and water trapped in the ear. Hearing aides can cause a blockage of earwax. Many people do not even know that they have earwax blockages and will only find out after complaints of not hearing well or a random visit to a physician who actually checks ears.
One way to remove earwax is to use earwax softeners such as Debrox or simply warm water and olive oil. A different removal is mechanical with a curette. A professional should perform this such as an ENT specialist or an Audiologist.
After the softener is used, water irrigation or vacuuming is performed to remove the softened earwax. Professionals perform these daily and caution should be used when performing bulb irrigation at home. Plus a professional can visualize the eardrum to check for infection, etc.
Curretting or mechanical removal of earwax is more difficult with wet earwax than dry earwax. Again a professional should perform this because the instruments can damage the canal or eardrum.
Q-TIPS ARE NOT RECOMMENDED because they often push wax back into the canal further or create a blockage. All and all weekly or monthly cleaning of the ears is good for most people. For others, they must go see their physician or their Audiologist.
Here at SLENT, we have both ENT physicians and Audiologists that use the latest techniques for cleaning earwax safely out of ears. Give us a call to schedule an appointment if you feel you are having a blockage or decreased hearing.