The human body is a marvel of self-regulation, and the production of earwax is no exception. Cerumen is a sticky substance secreted by the apocrine glands, which also regulate our perspiration. It serves a crucial function in maintaining our ear health by trapping foreign material, including dust, dirt, and even tiny insects. Its stickiness effectively stops such debris from reaching the sensitive inner part of the ear.
Earwax also provides lubrication, preventing the ear canal from drying out, which could lead to itching or infections. Moreover, its water-repellent properties help manage the moisture levels in our ears, thereby helping prevent ear infections.
Despite its vital role, an excess of cerumen can lead to blockages, causing issues like earaches, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), or temporary hearing loss. It's worth noting that the human ear is self-cleaning, and under normal conditions, the body manages the amount of earwax effectively. The natural jaw movements during talking or chewing loosen the earwax, moving it towards the outer ear, where it eventually falls out or gets washed away during showers.
When Does Earwax Become an Issue?
Occasionally, some people might produce more earwax than necessary, leading to cerumen impaction. In such cases, the excess earwax can cause a variety of symptoms such as hearing loss, earaches, a sensation of fullness or plugging in the ear, or even tinnitus. If left untreated, excessive earwax can lead to infections, resulting in severe pain, discharges from the ear, and fever-like symptoms.
The prevalence of earwax impaction is higher in older adults, but it can affect individuals of all ages. According to studies, approximately 30% of older adults experience impacted earwax. Moreover, nearly two-thirds of the 2.2 million people residing in assisted living facilities or nursing homes in the United States grapple with this condition.
Risks of Home Remedies for Earwax Removal
While it's tempting to take matters into your own hands, especially when dealing with something seemingly as trivial as earwax, it's important to understand the potential risks of DIY ear cleaning. Cotton swabs, for instance, have long been marketed as an effective tool for earwax removal. However, they often exacerbate the problem by pushing the wax deeper into the ear canal, thereby worsening the obstruction. Worse still, cotton swabs or any foreign object can inadvertently damage our inner ear's sensitive regions, especially the eardrum.
Furthermore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns against the use of ear candles, an alternative medicine product purportedly used to remove earwax. Not only is it ineffective, but it also poses serious risks such as ruptured eardrums, burns to the ear and face, and other complications.
Professional Earwax Removal: When to See an Expert
If you experience persistent ear discomfort or believe that your hearing is compromised due to earwax buildup, it's advisable to seek professional help. Audiologists, like those at the top-rated Victory Hearing and Balance clinic in West Lake Hills, TX, led by Dr. Jill Davis, are experts in diagnosing and treating conditions related to ear health, including excessive earwax.
The Process of Professional Earwax Removal
If earwax buildup is causing discomfort or affecting your hearing, your audiologist will perform a thorough examination of your ear using an otoscope, a specialized instrument that magnifies and illuminates the inner ear. If earwax buildup is the issue, they will then perform an earwax removal procedure in their office.
Professional earwax removal can be accomplished via various methods, primarily manual removal using a curette and irrigation. The choice of method largely depends on the patient's specific condition and the professional judgment of the audiologist.
Manual Earwax Removal
In cases of mild earwax issues, manual removal is the most common solution. Here, the audiologist uses a curette or a small scoop to gently extract the earwax. They leverage a special light and magnifying glass to clearly visualize the ear canal during the removal process, ensuring the delicate inner structures of the ear remain undamaged.
Ear irrigation is another common method used for earwax removal. This process involves flushing the ear with water, a saline solution, or a mixture of both to dislodge and remove the excess earwax. This method is typically safe and effective, although some people may experience temporary dizziness and mild discomfort during the process.
At Victory Hearing and Balance, the team uses these two methods to ensure safe and effective earwax removal. The choice between manual removal and irrigation largely depends on the patient's specific condition and the professional judgment of the audiologist.
Post-Procedure Care and Precautions
While ear irrigation is generally safe, some people might experience side effects such as temporary dizziness, discomfort in the ear canal, or tinnitus. These side effects are usually short-lasting and subside within a day. However, if you experience worsening pain, severe discomfort, or any new symptoms following the procedure, it's advisable to consult your audiologist immediately.
The Bottom Line
Earwax plays a crucial role in maintaining our ear health, but an excess of it can lead to discomfort and complications. While it's tempting to use home remedies for earwax removal, they often do more harm than good. Instead, professional earwax removal by an expert audiologist is a safe and effective method to handle excessive earwax.
At Victory Hearing and Balance, we offer professional and compassionate ear care services, including earwax removal. Our team, led by Dr. Jill Davis, is dedicated to providing comprehensive ear health solutions tailored to each patient's unique needs. So, if you're grappling with ear discomfort due to earwax buildup, don't hesitate to reach out to us for an evaluation and treatment.
Remember, your ears deserve the best care, and entrusting them to a knowledgeable and reliable expert is the first step towards ensuring their health and your overall well-being.
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