The importance of earwax, and the health of the ear canal, cannot be understated.

Earwax plays a valuable role in the ear. It is important for keeping the ear canal moist and clean. Tiny hairs in the ear canal move the wax to the outside of the ear carrying with it debris that gets into the ear. Sometimes, wax builds up inside the canal due to diet; for example, too much saturated fat, but also by packing the wax with cotton swabs. The shapes of ear canals can also contribute to the wax buildup so genes can be responsible here. And some of us are just prone to producing more ear wax.

Impacted wax can cause a good deal of pain as well as create a breeding ground for bacteria. It can also affect your ability to hear if the earwax is pressed up against the tympanic membrane. Other people will feel changes in pressure because of the earwax. Sometimes, bacteria enters with water which is where the term “swimmer’s ear” came from. Some symptoms which distinguish swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) from other earaches include itching, foul-smelling discharge from the ear, redness on the inside of the canal, and pain when tugging on the ear lobe.

Treatment often starts with clearing out the wax. There are many ways that this can be done, using products such as Debrox (hydrogen peroxide and glycerin), or ear lavage can also be used which is irrigation of the outer canal with a large syringe filled with warm water and hydrogen peroxide. Other times patients will come in to have the ear lavage done in office, or have an ear curette used to help pull wax out. When it comes to ear health, prevention is the best medicine.

I hope these little bits of information will help you when you have ear trouble in the future. If you have questions about, or are currently having trouble with your ears you can contact me at 1-415-912-9934, or visit the contact page. Thanks, and have a good September.

Image Credit: Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions (via Wikipedia) (CC 3.0)