Ear wax - A guide to Hearing Loss

We all have ear wax. This is a naturally occurring substance which helps to clean, lubricate and protect the ears against bacteria and infection. It acts like a cleaning tool in that it removes dirt and stops excess water from accessing the ear where it can damage the lining of the ear canal.

But some people find that they have an excess of this substance which causes a blockage in the ear and subsequent hearing loss.

What is ear wax made from?

You may be surprised to learn that ear wax is not just the one substance. In fact it is comprised of a range of substances which include dead skin cells, cerumen (a wax-like matter which is produced by the sweat glands), sebum (an oily substance from the sebaceous glands) and other external matter such as dirt. This is what gives it is characteristic yellowy-brown colour and waxy texture.

Your ear contains tiny sweat glands called ceruminous glands which help to produce ear wax. This wax then provides a protective layer inside the ear which prevents germs, bacteria or dirt from reaching and damaging the inner ear.

People are disgusted by ear wax and try different ways of removing it such as cotton wool buds or ear drops. And some try complimentary remedies such as ear candling.

Why do we need ear wax?

Your ear removes wax of its own accord. It produces this substance in order to protect the ear against the risk of damage or infection. Without this your ear would become cracked and sore and open to infection.

Excess ear wax

Some people find that their ear wax builds up to form a hard ‘plug’which is itchy and causes other symptoms such as dizziness, (balance is affected), tinnitus, earache, vertigo and hearing loss.

Your hearing loss may be caused by another factor but if you have an excess of ear wax then this is likely to be the problem.

Why are some people more prone to excess ear wax than others? There are a variety of reasons for this which includes:

  • An excess of hairs within your ear canals
  • Deformed or very narrow ear canals
  • Have prior history of recurring ear wax
  • Are older: ear wax becomes drier and harder as we age
  • Have a skin complaint in the area in front of your ear lobe

A word about cotton wool buds: these are available via your local chemist or supermarket and are used by many people to rid their ears of wax. But they are problematic in that they can push a ball of ear wax even further into the ear which causes it to become impacted and leads to a blockage. Another concern with cotton wool buds is that they could damage the delicate structures of the ear, such as the ear drum, if they are pushed too forcefully into the ears.

Treatment for excess ear wax

If you find that you have an excess of ear wax or a hard plug in your ear which is affecting your hearing then see your GP. He or she may suggest ear drops to soften and remove this wax.

Other forms of treatment include ear irrigation (previously known as ear syringing), microsuction or a special type of probe to remove this wax.

There is a complimentary treatment called ‘ear candling’(or Hopi ear candles) which involves placing a candle into the ear canal and lighting the other end (outside of the body) with the aim of creating ‘negative’ air pressure which will draw out the wax. But it is not universally recommended. There are many conventional practitioners who are worried about the safety of using this method and are wary of the claims made by its advocates. If you are thinking of trying this method then consider it very carefully.

Once the ear wax is removed then your hearing will return to its normal state.

Hearing Loss

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