Ear wax, or cerumen, isn't a wax at all. It's a sticky substance that is secreted by glands in the outer ear canal. Cerumen performs an important function for our ears. It traps dirt and other foreign debris that may get into our ear canal.
It then moves the debris to the outer ear canal, where we can easily clean it away. It's what makes our ears "self-cleaning." Cerumen also protects our ears from fungus, bacteria and water.
In an attempt to rid the ear of excess ear wax, some people use cotton swabs and ear candling. Ear candling involves placing a cone-shaped candle at the opening of the ear canal and then lighting the candle.
It allegedly softens the ear wax and then sucks it out of the ear. In reality, candling can be dangerous and actually cause blockage, burns and ruptured ear drum! Never place a cotton swab or anything else inside the ear canal in an attempt to remove excess ear wax.
Rather than removing it, you can move it deeper into the ear, causing a blockage and rupture of the ear drum. A cotton swab should only be used to remove ear wax from the opening of the ear canal.
Blockage caused by excess ear wax can cause loss of hearing. Other signs that you may have a blockage of ear wax includes tinnitus (ringing in the ear), earache, odor, itching and discharge. If you suspect that you may have an ear blockage, it is recommended that you see a medical professional.
However, if your ears are otherwise healthy, there are some things you can try at home to rid the ear of blockage. Several times a day for a couple of days, place a couple of drops of mineral oil, baby oil, peroxide, glycerin or an over-the-counter product, to soften the wax.
Once the wax is softened, you can gently wash it out of the ear canal by tilting your head until your ear canal is vertical to the ground, then use a rubber bulb syringe and gently squirt water into your ear canal. Then, tip your head to let the water drain. Dry your ear with a towel or hair dryer set on the coolest setting.
If you have a chronic condition such as diabetes or a compromised immune system, always have a medical professional remove excess ear wax. Also, if the home treatments do not work, see a doctor. People who regularly get blockages or wear hearing aids should make regular appointments to have a medical professional clean their ears.
Watch the video below to see how a medical professional removes an ear wax blockage. It's a bit gross, so watch at your own risk!
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