HEALTH CENTER

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What Did You Say? by Alison Sims, M.D.

Are you getting tired of having to say WHAT? to your significant other and friends? Are you turning up the TV more and more? It may be something as simple as ear wax buildup, and your doctor can resolve your hearing problem in one short visit!  Ear wax, or “cerumen”, is produced by the ear canals to protect the skin of the ear canal from infections and injuries. Ear wax is a necessary substance to keep the skin healthy much like the wax on a car protects the paint coat from the weather elements and damage. Usually the wax moves slowly out of the ear canal on its own and is present at all times in a healthy amount.

Unfortunately, there are conditions that lead to more wax than is necessary, and when it fills the ear canal it blocks our ability to hear normally or even causes discomfort.

Some people make more wax than other people, and this condition can be hereditary. It is also evident that the very young and the very old usually make more ear wax. Sometimes the natural shape of the ear canal is narrow or tortuous and so it traps the wax and prevents it from moving outward. Surfers are at risk of an acquired narrowing of the ear canal. Extra cartilage develops in the ear canals if exposed to very cold water constantly, as the body is protecting the inner ear from the cold. If the cartilage grows to the point of closure, surgery is needed.

Many people like to use cotton swabs to “clean out” the wax in their ears and inadvertently they push the wax in further. It is recommended to avoid using cotton swabs at all in the ear canal as it may lead to damage of the skin or worse, the ear drum. Another popular folk remedy is ear candling that involves a hollow tube placed in the ear that is then lit with a flame at the other end. Candling is also not recommended, as it is not effective and can cause severe injury.

If you are having trouble hearing, have ringing in your ear(s), feel like there is a plug in your ear, or are having ear pain, you should see your health care provider for further evaluation. If you are found to have impacted ear wax, then special ear drops are applied to soften the wax for 5-10 minutes, and after that the wax is removed with a warm water rinse that does not cause injury to the ear canal or the ear drum. Occasionally it is necessary for the doctor to use a special tool in the shape of a spoon or loop to pull out the stubborn wax pieces.

After your ear wax is removed, the doctor will always take a last look to see if the ear drum is normal, or if there are signs of infection such as fluid behind the ear drum or redness of the ear drum or canal. If the ear drum (or inner ear) is red, then you will be prescribed antibiotics to be taken by mouth. If the skin of the ear canal (or outer ear) is red, then you have “swimmer’s ear” and will be given antibiotic ear drops. Sometimes both conditions are present and both forms of antibiotics will be recommended. You will also need to keep the ears dry during treatment.

So take care to avoid using cotton swabs, and go see your doctor if you are having wax buildup!

The information provided is for general interest only and should not be misconstrued as a diagnosis, prognosis or treatment recommendation. This information does not in any way constitute the practice of medicine, or any other health care profession. Readers are directed to consult their health care provider regarding their specific health situation. Marque Medical is not liable for any action taken by a reader based upon this information.