Ear Wax Discussion

Wax in the ear is a very common problem which affects large numbers of people and is usually more of a nuisance then a serious problem. The medical term for wax is cerumen.  The number of ways that people have thought of to deal with wax is limited only by their imagination. Not much is known about wax in the ear because very little research has been done on the topic.

People with wax impaction will come to the doctor with the complaint of a blocked feeling in the ear and hearing loss. Most people know that wax is the problem. There are people who must visit the ear doctor to get their ears flushed out on a regular basis.

What causes wax impaction?  In a number of cases the opening to the ear canal is narrow and the wax has a tendency to get trapped. That, coupled with the fact that a lot of people use cotton tipped swabs to try to remove wax. The swabs actually push the wax further into the canal. There are three or four solutions on the market which are used to soften the wax. These solutions are a type of peroxide and work reasonably well.  There is one kit which has a syringe which is used to irrigate the ear after the wax is softened up. Some people claim good results with this system.

From a medical standpoint, wax is felt to provide some protection against infection. So unless the wax is a severe problem, it is recommended to leave it alone. However, when the patient comes in with wax impaction, the wax is softened up with peroxide or and either flushed out with water or removed with suction. Once this is done, some 70% alcohol is placed in the ear to dry out the canal. One of the problems encountered is that after syringing out the wax with water, a fungal infection can start.

Fungal infections can also be a complication of many of the home remedies.  One home remedy calls for the use of sweet oil drops in the ear.  Many times a fungus will grow on the sweet oil and this type of remedy should be avoided.

Some of the ear wax removal drops are caustic and are meant to be used for only a short period of time and then washed out with water.  They are not to be put into the ear repeatedly, because irritation of the ear canal will develop, possibly leading to infection.

If the patient has ear tubes or perforation in the ear drum, they should not put any of the drops or water in the ears.

Advice about wax:

  • If it isn’t bothering you don’t worry about it.
  • If it is blocking the ear first try over the counter drops to soften up the wax .  If this fails then see your ear doctor to flush out the ears.