We often get asked how to best prevent build-up of ear wax in the ear canal and if there is a build-up, what is the best way to treat it.
Having some wax in the ear canals is a good thing, but when it becomes excessive it can act as a plug which can cause temporary hearing loss, tinnitus and other issues. Hearing aid users especially are prone to wax build-up which can interfere with the functioning of their hearing aids. So how do we remove excessive earwax?
The wax must be removed professionally by a trained professional such as an audiologist, family physician, nurse practitioner or ears, nose and throat (ENT) physician. We often recommend the use of ear-wax softening drops to help soften the wax first before wax removal. There are three main methods performed by health care professionals for wax removal:
- Microsuction: This method is what we use most frequently in our clinics. Wax is typically softened first, then we use a tiny vacuum to suction out the wax. We prefer this method as it is considered to be the safest, as we are able to view the ear canal during the entire procedure. It is fast and effective and many people report it to be the most comfortable.
- Irrigation: This method is most frequently done at a physician’s office. A physician, nurse, or nurse practitioner will use water to flush out the earwax. Sometimes, this method can be messy and uncomfortable. This method is not recommended for patients with ear canal perforations or other medical issues of the ear. We do not perform irrigation at our clinics.
- Manual methods: If the wax is hard and in a defined shape, sometimes manually scooping out the wax with a small tool called a curette is the most effective.
DID YOU KNOW?
- The proper name for earwax is called cerumen. It can be yellow, brown, orange, red or black in colour. It is mostly made up of a combination of sebum produced by sebaceous glands and cerumen produced by ceruminous glands in the ear canal as well as dead skin cells.
- Earwax acts as a lubricant and helps to protect the ear from dust, debris and bacteria. This is why having some wax in the canal is healthy. It is only when it forms a blockage and causes problems that it needs to be removed.
- Earwax softening drops are called cerumenolytics. At our clinics, we use and recommend a product called Audiologist’s Choice because it is safe and very effective, but there are other products that work as well. The active ingredient of 6.5% carbamide peroxide does a very good job at not only softening, but helping to dissolve the earwax.
- The ear canal is self-cleaning. Hearing aid users are more prone to wax-buildup because they have hearing aids sitting in their ear canals most of the day which prevents the wax from migrating out of the ear canal.
- We can often tell how long the wax has been in the ear canal by the colour and texture. Soft, light-coloured wax tends to be newly-produced wax and is easy to remove. The longer the wax remains in the ear canal, the harder, drier and darker it gets. The wax can stick to the hairs in the ear canal and sometimes it can be painful to remove. This is why we recommend softening this wax prior to removal so it will be more comfortable for the patient.
DOs and DON’T for earwax management:
- DON’T use Q-tips! While it may be tempting, if you have a build-up of wax in your ears, the use of Q-tips can push the wax in further, causing more harm than good. You also run the risk of puncturing the eardrum with the Q-tip. While rare, this can cause a perforation of the eardrum which may or may not heal. Small perforations can heal on their own but if the perforation is large enough, it likely will not. Surgery to repair it may be required and it may not be successful. This can cause permanent hearing loss.
- DON’T try ear candling. Not only is it ineffective, but it can be very dangerous. This method can cause severe burns and damage to the ear, not to mention it is a fire hazard. The theory behind ear candling is that suction created by the heat of the candle removes the wax from the ear. After the ear candling is done, it appears that a large quantity of wax has been removed from the ear canal. This wax is almost exclusively the wax from the candle itself, NOT the ear canal.
- Unless you have a perforation in your eardrum(s) or have a medical reason not to allow water to enter your ear canals, DO rinse your ear canals out in the shower on a regular basis to help prevent wax from building up. Anyone can do this, but it is especially important for hearing aid users to prevent wax build-up from interfering with hearing aid use. It is okay to wipe the entrance of the ear canal with a tissue.
Our clinics offer wax removal services to all of our hearing aid patients. Call us at 902-865-4455 or 902-465-4334 to book a wax removal appointment!