Cerumen (Earwax) Management

Cerumen is the medical term for earwax. Earwax comes in many different forms. It can be dry and flaky or thick and sticky depending on the physical characteristics of your skin and oils. Cerumen is natural and actually quite beneficial. It only becomes an issue if it builds up and becomes excessive in the ear canal, which often happens by our own doing!

Cerumen is a protective layer in your ear canal. Cerumen protects and moisturizes the ear canal, which helps to prevent dry, itchy ears. It also acts as a layer of protection against bacteria, fungi, insects, and water. If you clean your ears excessively, you actually become more susceptible to irritated ears and more sensitive to having water in your ears. The final purpose of cerumen is to naturally clean your ears. Cerumen is produced in the outer third of the cartilaginous portion of the ear canal. As the glands produce new cerumen, it pushes the old cerumen out of the ear canal, which naturally cleans the ear canal. Cerumen can become excessive and create a blockage when Q-tips are used. Usage of Q-tips often inadvertently pushes the cerumen further into the ear canal beyond the point where the cerumen is produced. Once the cerumen is pushed past that point, the production of new cerumen can no longer push the old cerumen out. The cerumen will accumulate into a plug and cause a hearing loss. The cerumen will then need to be professionally removed. Symptoms of an earwax impaction include:

     -fullness in your ears
     -difficulty hearing
     -ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
     -itchiness in the ears
     -odor coming from the ears
     -possibly even dizziness

Depending on the type of cerumen and depth of impaction in the ear canal, a few different types of cerumen management may be used. The first type of method of removal is with curettes and/or alligator forceps. A curette typically has a small loop that is used to scoop the cerumen out from the ear canal. Forceps can be used to grab hard pieces of cerumen.

A second type of removal is with suction. This involves a tiny, medical vacuum used to remove the cerumen from the ear canal.

A third type of removal is with irrigation. With this method, water is used to provide force to remove the cerumen from the ear canal.

Cerumen removal should be performed by a professional. Cerumen removal attempted at home could lead to pushing the cerumen impaction deeper into the ear canal and damaging or even perforating the eardrum.

If you have excessive cerumen, measures you may take at home to prevent a cerumen impaction include:

     -Clean the outside of the ear by wiping with a cloth (Use nothing smaller than your elbow in your ear!)
     -Use cerumenolytic solutions (solutions to dissolve wax) in the ear canal. These solutions include mineral oil, baby oil, peroxide-based ear drops (such as Debrox®), hydrogen peroxide, and saline solution.

If you have concerns about your cerumen production or hearing, visit an audiologist. We are happy to help!

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