Is earwax getting in the way of your hearing?

Do your ears feel ‘full’ or plugged?

Have you noticed changes in your hearing?

Do you have a persistent earache?

Do you experience tinnitus sensations (like ringing in your ear)?

Does your ear itch, or emit an odour or discharge?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, earwax buildup may be the culprit.

Earwax lubricates our ears in the same way tears lubricate our eyes. Without adequate earwax, our ears would feel dry and itchy.  Your ears are normally self-cleaning; earwax is naturally expelled when you move your jaw or chew. But sometimes we overproduce wax, and it needs a bit of help to come out.

It is possible to improve your hearing with one appointment with a hearing specialist

If problematic, having earwax buildup removed professionally can do wonders for the clarity of your hearing.

Notice I said ‘professionally’.

You may have heard the phrase ‘don’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear’.

It’s true.

Most people use a cotton tip, thinking they are removing wax. In actual fact, they are pushing the wax further, making it a literal barrier to hearing.

Excessive or impacted earwax can lead to infection.

And it can wreak havoc on hearing aids.

Earwax is the enemy of hearing aids

The ear canal is an extremely hostile environment for electronics.

Not only is the external ear extremely humid, the canal is also acidic to deter bacteria from entering the ear.

Moist, acidic conditions are not ideal for tiny precision pieces of electronics, as you can imagine.

People who think they’re not getting benefit from their hearing aids are often surprised when sound comes back after wax is removed from the ear and/or the hearing aid.

Most of the time, a ‘broken’ hearing aid is just blocked with wax, and can be fixed in minutes.

Let me tell you about a client who had a nasty run-in with a cotton tip

Dodge (not his real name) was doing laps at the pool as usual, one Saturday morning. He jumped out to clean the water from his ears with a cotton tip. This is a regular part of his routine.

However, on this particular morning, children were kicking a ball around the pool. You can probably guess what happens next.

Like something out of a horror movie, as if in unstoppable slow motion, the ball was kicked in his direction at the exact moment Dodge had the cotton tip in his ear.

Keep. Reading.

Inevitably, the ball hit his elbow. In went the cotton tip, straight through his eardrum. I don’t need to explain to you the sharp, intense pain Dodge felt.

Worse yet, he lost part of his hearing.

Luckily, as it was his first perforation, he healed up quite nicely. Others aren’t as lucky.

Ear candling can be just as bad.

Ear candling involves placing a lit, hollow, cone-shaped candle into the ear canal. The heat is meant to travel down to melt your ear wax, so that you can drain it easily.

Does that honestly sound like a good idea to you?

Suppose you set your hair on fire, a risk that’s increased if you use hairspray. Ear candling can easily lead to burns to the face, ear canal, eardrum and middle ear. It can also leave deposits of wax in your ear, or push wax even further in.

And punctured eardrums are not unheard of…

 

So you’ve made the right decision not to remove your earwax yourself. Surely the GP can do it for you, right?

Well, actually…

GPs usually use the syringing method. It’s risky because if they use too much pressure they can burst your eardrum. In fact, an article I read suggests that 1 in 1000 patients experience major complications following syringing. As a consequence, one in five medico-legal cases involving GPs are related to ear syringing.

Those odds ain’t great.

Look for hearing specialists that use the latest, gentlest, safest removal methods.

If you think earwax could be distorting your hearing, make an appointment with a hearing clinic that uses the latest, gentlest methods.You might benefit from regular preventive ear-cleaning appointments if you use hearing aids or are particularly prone to blockage.The clinicians at my clinics in Melbourne and Brisbane have been trained to use the safest suction technology.

3 Comments

  1. Interesting but what is the method? A retired GP friend with a significant long term ear drum perforation has an ear dryer, which he suggests is excellent for drying his ear after a swim or a shower. How do these rate in your opinion please? Thanks, Jim

    Jim Barbour

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