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Earwax Removal: Here's What to Expect
Earwax removalEarwax removal

We all know that sticking things (read: cotton buds) into our ears is not encouraged and can be downright dangerous, so how do you get excess wax out of your ears? When is it necessary to remove earwax, and how do you even know that you’ve got impacted earwax in your ears?

There may be some advantages to having wax stuck in your ears (can’t hear your partner nagging or your kids moaning!), but from a medical perspective there are many more reasons why you should get rid of that wax. Let’s unravel the mysteries of earwax and get you hearing clearly again.

What is earwax and when is it too much?

Earwax, or cerumen, is a yellowish-orange, waxy substance that is produced naturally by glands lining the outer ear and serves to protect the ear canal from infection, keep it lubricated and help to keep it free from dust and other particles. Usually the wax dries up and falls from the ear, along with trapped debris. Earwax is only problematic if it builds up and becomes impacted in the ear canal.

The type and colour of your earwax is genetically determined, and some people produce ‘harder’ wax than other people. This wax may build up in the ear canals, especially if your ear canals are small or narrowed. You may also be more prone to earwax build-up if you use a hearing aid or regularly use ear plugs.

Symptoms of impacted earwax

Many people go around for years not realising that they have earwax impaction until they suddenly find they can’t hear what someone is saying on the telephone or their family complains that they’ve got the TV volume too high.

Other symptoms of earwax impaction include a feeling of fullness in the ear, buzzing or ringing in the ear, dizziness, ear pain and even a cough (there is a cough receptor in the ear canal). It’s possible to get a secondary infection with wax impaction, and this can cause severe pain, itching in the ear canal or a smelly discharge from the ear.

If you think that you may have earwax impaction, the best thing to do is to make an appointment to see a GP so that they can take a look into your ear canal. It’s very important that you don’t try to treat your wax impaction at home without having had a proper diagnosis made, because it’s almost impossible to tell on your own whether your ear symptoms are caused by outer, middle or inner ear problems, and you could cause damage to yourself by self-treating or, even worse, miss serious pathology.

How is earwax safely removed?

Remember those cotton buds? They may come out yellow when you scratch your ears with them, but they are definitely not removing the wax. If anything, cotton buds in your ears actually serve to push wax deeper into the ear canal, impacting it further. Likewise, sticking bobby pins, pencils, keys or rolled-up napkin edges into your ears may relieve an itch, but they will also exacerbate wax impaction.

A favourite saying among ear, nose and throat surgeons is that you should never be sticking anything smaller than your elbow into your ear!

Ear candling is a popular, but dangerous, method of removing earwax that is NOT recommended. The procedure uses a hollow cone made of paraffin or beeswax with a tapered cloth end that is inserted into the ear. The other end is then lit, and the theory is that it creates a suction that removes the wax. There is no evidence that it creates a suction or removes wax, and the procedure can cause severe burns.

The safest way to remove impacted earwax is to have it done by a GP or nurse practitioner who is comfortable with the procedure. At the Wellington Medical Group, we ensure that our GPs are experienced in the safe practice of earwax removal.

This is what the process may look like:

  1. One of our GPs examines your ear with an otoscope and makes a diagnosis of wax impaction.
  2. You may be given ear drops to go home with that you put into your ear to soften the wax. In some cases, this may be all that is required. In other cases, the drops will soften the wax enough to allow it to be removed more easily.
  3. The GP may bring you back for an ear syringe or ear suction. With an ear syringe, warm water is gently syringed into the ear to remove the wax. Although this is usually safe, it can cause problems if there is a hole in the eardrum or if the person doing the syringing is too forceful (which can perforate the eardrum). The safest method for removing wax is to suction it out. With suctioning, our GP will use a special micro-suction machine to gently suction the wax and debris from your ear. This is a non-painful, non-invasive procedure and does not carry any significant risks.

Benefits of removing impacted earwax

Apart from the very obvious fact that you will be able to hear clearly again, there are other benefits to removing earwax that has built up in the ear canal. Not doing anything about your impacted earwax can predispose you to ear infections. If you have impacted earwax and use a hearing aid, the wax will interfere with the function of your hearing aid. If you have been struggling with vertigo (dizziness) or with a buzzing or ringing in your ears, removing the wax may sort your problem out.

How to get your earwax removed

If the symptoms of wax impaction sound familiar (no pun intended!) and you think that you may have earwax build-up in your ears, it’s as simple as picking up your telephone or clicking on the links provided to get your wax safely removed by a professional. At the Wellington Medical Group, we use state-of-the-art suction techniques to gently and effectively remove impacted earwax.

Contact us now to hear clearly again.

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