Earwax in normal amounts is healthy and serves to lubricate and protect the ear canal from dust particles, dirt and infections. The absence of earwax may result in dry, itchy ears. It is a natural substance produced by sebaceous glands in the outer 1/3 of the ear canal.
Ideally, we should never have to remove wax from our ears. Our ears are designed to clean themselves by pushing the earwax out of the canal on its own. However, problems can and do occur when people interfere with this normal process. Before you rush out and purchase a hearing aid consider the following ear cleaning methods.
Q-tips and Hearing Aids
The use of Q-tips or cotton swabs is probably the single most common cause of impaction or plugging of the ear canal with wax. Think of a Q-tip as an old-fashion ramrod used to pack gunpowder and the ball into a civil war musket. When the wax is just ready to fall out, the cotton swab rams it back in.
Unfortunately, in-the-canal and in- the-ear hearing aids behave much like a Q-tip by disrupting the skin’s natural shedding process and can cause excessive buildup of wax in the ear canal.
So how do you safely remove wax from your ears at home?
Ear doctors are best trained to deal with the more complicated situations. They use special miniature instrument or suction and have a microscope to magnify the ear canal. But if you have a mild to moderate buildup of wax blocking your ear canal you might want to try an earwax removal method at home.
Soften the wax
If you do not have a hole or a ventilation tube in your eardrum and have not had surgery on your ear you might want to start by softening the wax by placing several drops of a commercial product in your ear. Several products are available on the market such as Debrox and Murine eardrops. Or you could use baby oil, mineral oil or glycerin. These products soften the wax. A new product, Earwax MD, claims to actually dissolve the wax.
After one or more treatments of wax softening (may even take 1-2 days), use a rubber-bulb syringe to gently squirt lukewarm or “body temperature” water into the ear canal. Hot or cold water may make you temporarily dizzy. To assist in the irrigation, pull your outer ear upward and backward to straighten your ear canal. Caution-this can get messy. Some people will do this in their shower. Afterwards tip your head to the side to let the water drain out.
Dry your ear canal
When finished you want to dry your outer ear. This can be done with a hair dryer or by instilling a solution made by mixing equal parts of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol. The alcohol will serve as a drying agent and the vinegar will fight bacteria and fungus and hence prevent any kind of ear infection. Incidentally, this mixture can be used prophylactically to prevent swimmer’s ear.
How can I prevent excessive earwax?
Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent wax blockage but not using Q-tips is a good start. If you wear a hearing aid you could use the home treatment described above or consider seeing an ear doctor every 6-12 months for routine preventive cleaning.
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