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What is earwax?
Cerumen, also known as “earwax,” is a natural substance that cleans, protects, and lubricates the ear canal. It is a mixture of oil, fat and protein, secreted from earwax glands that run along the outer portion of your ear canal. It combines with your skin, dust and debris to produce its darker colour. Earwax is good for you! However when it becomes excessive, it can cause serious problems and needs to be removed by a professional.
What causes earwax build-up?
COTTON BUD USE
This is widely considered as the largest cause of earwax blockage. Never attempt to use cotton buds to remove earwax from your ear canal. Earwax is only produced in the outer portion of the ear canal, but cotton bud use pushes wax further down towards the eardrum where it doesn’t belong. This disrupts your ears natural self-cleaning ability and also makes it harder to remove.
Children have smaller ear canals making them easier to become blocked, and older people produce less sebum oil, leading to dryer wax that is more likely to clog the ear canal.
Research suggests that your ethnicity can be a factor. For example, studies show African descendants to have more earwax glands, and some Asian groups to produce a dryer type of wax.
The structure of your ear canal can make you more prone to earwax build-up. Ear canals that are narrow, collapsed, very bendy or very hairy are more likely to trap earwax than naturally expel it.
Studies also suggest that having fewer molar teeth or more dental pathologies can increase your risk of earwax blockage. This is because the action of chewing helps your ear canal to slowly migrate earwax out of your ear, and missing or damaged teeth can disrupt this mechanism
Excess earwax can be the result of working in dirty or dusty environments, swimming, using earplugs or earphones for long durations and wearing hearing aids. Earwax acts as a protective mechanism for your ears, and can increase in defence to these activities.
Do I need earwax removal?
A residual amount of wax in the ear canal is normal to keep the ears healthy, however certain factors can cause a build-up of wax. In this case it’s important to seek professional treatment as soon as possible, and not attempt to remove the blockage yourself. Leaving an earwax blockage untreated can make you more prone to chronic ear infections and make your ears very uncomfortable during normal activities such as showering, swimming, car journeys and flights. Common symptoms of excessive wax include pain, feeling of fullness, itching, tinnitus, dizziness and hearing loss. The longer a blockage is left untreated, the more it builds up, the worse its symptoms become and the harder it is to remove.
Can I clean my ears by myself?
If you are suffering from an earwax blockage, the only solution is to seek professional treatment. Attempting to remove the blockage by yourself is dangerous and will worsen the situation. For normal maintenance however, you do not need to clean your ears. Ears are self-cleaning, just like many of the other orifices within your body. Earwax does not usually need to be removed, and a small amount actually helps to keep your ears clean. It acts as a natural defence system, by catching dust, debris and foreign objects, and having antimicrobial properties to prevent infection.
Are there other ways to remove earwax?
It is important to note that there is a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to earwax removal. Popular fads such as Hopi earwax candles, and DIY tools such as cotton buds, ear vacuums, ear curettes and ear screws are all very dangerous to use, with no scientific evidence backing up their effectiveness whatsoever. Over the counter pharmaceuticals such as sodium bicarbonate or hydrogen peroxide are also not recommended, as they can cause irritation to the ear canal or make your earwax thick, sticky and harder to remove. Syringing / Irrigation is an earwax removal method that was commonly used in the past, however its lack of safety and record of injury has caused it to be phased out from medical practice, and no longer receive public funding. The gold standard method for earwax removal is microsuction, due to its safety, comfort, efficiency and hygiene, which is why this is the only method offered at Vivona Earcare.
Why has my GP stopped offering earwax removal?
Most people are finding that their local NHS GP surgery has stopped providing earwax removal. This is because the traditional method used by the NHS, known as ear syringing or irrigation, has shown a lack of safety and a record of injury. Public funding for ear syringing has therefore been stopped. Ear syringing uses high pressure and water, which has a history of causing perforated eardrums, abrasions to the ear canal, ear infections, pain, dizziness and discomfort. Microsuction is the safest method for earwax removal, but to access microsuction within the NHS normally requires a specialist referral after meeting certain criteria. These referrals currently have a waiting list of over 3 months across most trusts. This is why Vivona Earcare takes pride in solving an emerging problem nationwide, by providing safe earwax removal, at short notice, and at a time that suits you.