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Earwax - Is It Bad?

Cerumen, commonly known as earwax, is the protective yellow waxy substance secreted in the passage of the outer ear, i.e. ear canal. Cerumen has three main functions: 1. To protect the tympanic membrane or eardrum; 2. Moisturize and lubricate the ear canal; 3. Help fight against infection. So earwax helps protect and clean? Not bad at all!

Earwax will naturally work itself out of the ear canal. However, when earwax becomes stuck and builds up in the ear canal, we have a problem. Cerumen impaction can cause complications such as hearing loss, pain, or tinnitus. Treatment options for cerumen impaction include watchful waiting, manual removal by a health care provider, the use of softening agents, and water irrigation with or without softening agent pretreatment. Referral to an otolaryngologist (ENT physician) for further evaluation is indicated if treatment with a softening agent and/or irrigation is ineffective, if manual removal is not possible, or if hearing loss is still present after cerumen has been removed. The use of cotton swabs and ear candles should be avoided.

Anna Grashoff, AuD, CCC-A, FAAA

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