All About Ear Wax

Ear wax is the buildup of drainage, dust, and debris in the ear canal. While serving a useful purpose, sometimes it needs to be treated.

Everyone has earwax. So called because of its color and consistency, this waxy substance builds up in the inner ear canal over time, and sometimes drains into the outer ear area where it can be seen. Usually you can wipe it off with a warm washcloth or cotton swab. Avoid dripping water or soap inside your ear, however.

Earwax generally serves a good turn. Accumulating over time, it can help to cushion the inner ear and eardrum from extreme noises or excessive dirt. However, under certain conditions like heat or dryness, the wax can harden, creating a potential hearing hazard since its presence can affect the quality of sounds as they penetrate the inner ear for processing by the brain.

When this happens, most people allow the substance to gradually dissipate over time, and do not medical intervention since the problem is usually minor. Other people, however, experience significant hearing loss or change and consult a doctor about removing the buildup.

The doctor may suggest placing a few drops of warm sweet oil in the ear to soften the wax. There are also prescription medications that can be used to achieve the same result. If these are unsuccessful, an ear wick may be placed to drain the buildup mechanically. If the buildup becomes infectious due to the infiltration of bacteria, antibiotics or other treatments may be needed. Sometimes the doctor will remove a hardened chunk of wax that can be as large as a walnut kernel.

Swimmer's ear is one contributing cause of excess earwax. Chronic sinus problems, long-lasting respiratory viruses, and a dusty home or work environment are additional sources for the problem. Those with frequent ear infections tend to have ongoing problems that may include excess wax. Wearing earplugs can help to keep your ears clean in a dirty area or in the swimming pool. Sinus or colds may need to be treated separately by a head, ears, nose, and throat (HENT) specialist. Always wear a hat in winter, as eighty percent of the body's heat escapes through the head. Lower body heat makes your body more receptive to viruses and other illnesses.

You should never intentionally drain water or other fluids into your ears to loosen the wax. Nor should you poke a cotton swab into the inner ear canal. Some folks have used pencils, bobby pins, chopsticks, and various other pointed objects to try and jab the wax to loosen it. Placing a sharp or pointed object in your ear may pierce the eardrum and cause permanent hearing loss or damage.

Earwax is the body's way of naturally protecting the eardrum and inner ear canal. Without it, your hearing might suffer assault from a variety of germs or debris. If too much of it builds up and causes a problem, check with your doctor before trying any homemade remedies yourself. Grandma used many creative methods to deal with medical situations, but without her explicit guidance and supervision, a doctor is your next best bet. Don't neglect ear and hearing health as you take steps to protect the rest of your body.

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