There’s no getting around it: earwax is not the most exciting topic to most people. But it serves an important role in your hearing health. It can be wet or dry, comes in a variety of colors and, ideally, it’s a mix of oil, sweat, dead skin cells and dirt – but it is also really necessary. In fact, removing too much earwax can be damaging to your ear, due to the protective properties of earwax.
What is earwax exactly?
Earwax, known as cerumen to medical professionals, naturally appears in various parts of the ear (health.harvard.edu).
Although it may seem unappetizing, earwax acts as a natural barrier between the inner ear and the outside world. Its sticky properties prevent dirt and bacteria from entering the ear and collects debris to protect the ear canal. It is similar in many ways to nose hair or eyebrows, just in a different form.
What does earwax do?
Aside from acting as a natural barrier, earwax can also – strangely enough – repel insects. This is particularly important for those hot summer months when mosquitos are out in force! The smell of earwax repels insects and, if any bugs were to find their way into the outer ear, the stickiness would capture them.
Earwax can also help to moisturize your outer ear. Underproduction of earwax can lead to ears becoming itchy and flaky, which can result in irritation and infection (healthyhearing.com).
How is earwax linked to hearing and hearing loss?
The body is a wondrous work of art and, like most things, earwax works automatically. Generally, our ears naturally produce an optimum level of earwax and our body knows to expel excess wax, along with dirt and debris. Intervention is entirely unnecessary.
Some people are more likely to produce excess earwax than others. People with chronic ear infections or have abnormally-formed ear canals are more likely to have issues with earwax. Something that is possibly less obvious, however, is that if a person is particularly stressed or frightened, this can also lead to excess earwax. The same glands that produce sweat also produce earwax, so if stress is commonplace in your life, that’s one more reason to try to get rid of it!
An overabundance of earwax can have detrimental impacts on your hearing and could even lead to hearing loss itself (see below). It can also lead to ear infections and other complications.
How to – and how not to – safely clean your ears
How not to clean your ears:
When people overuse things such as Q-Tips to remove earwax, your body automatically thinks it needs to produce more, which can result in excess earwax.
Despite the fact that many people use cotton buds to remove earwax as part of their daily routine, it is not recommended (source)! By using this method, it is easy to actually cause blockages by pushing the earwax further into your ear. Blockages of earwax can result in conductive hearing loss, which can be temporary or permanent.
Instead, here are some tips on how to clean your ears safely – without the use of cotton buds!
Cleaning your ears safely:
Although your ears do naturally clean themselves, you can do a few extra things to ensure good ear hygiene.
• Warm, soapy water: One of the easiest methods of ongoing care is to simply let some water into your ear when in the shower from time to time. Washing your ears with warm, soapy water softens and loosens earwax.
• Natural oils: If water does not seem to do the trick, natural oils may be able to assist. Mineral oil or baby oil are two options that are recommended.
• Contact our team: You can also contact our team of audiologists for an annual evaluation. It is recommended that hearing aid users have check-ups every 6 to 9 months for routine preventive cleaning.
Schedule an appointment with an audiologist
At GreenTree Hearing & Audiology, we are here to help. If you feel that you are due for an evaluation, or have any questions about hearing, earwax or hearing devices, contact our team today.