Understanding Ear Wax and Effective Ear Wax Removal

Ear wax is produced by all of us, young and old, and is often the first topic of conversation when an audiologist introduces themselves at a dinner table! We hear of all sorts of home remedies individuals try and often hear the results are not as effective as one would have hoped for and frankly, home remedies can be quite dangerous to our ear canals.

What is ear wax and why is it there?

Ear wax is scientifically known as cerumen. It may seem like a nuisance, but earwax plays a crucial role in protecting our ears. Produced by the glands in the ear canal, ear wax acts as a natural defence mechanism against foreign particles, dust, and microorganisms. It lubricates the ear canal, preventing dryness and irritation while also assisting in the inhibition of bacteria growth. Wax is produced predominantly in the outer third portion of the ear canal and on a portion of skin that acts like a natural conveyer belt. This means that wax slowly gets pushed out of your ear canal and it drops out on its own. This process can take a couple of months to complete. The amount of ear wax produced by a person can vary between individuals and despite its protective benefits, excessive production of ear wax can lead to a buildup with various complications, including hearing loss, tinnitus, dizziness, ear ache and discomfort.

It is good to know that a healthy ear contains wax and wax is protective.

Help. Why is my ear blocked?

There are numerous reasons why the natural shedding and migrating mechanism of wax out of our ear canals can be less effective. This can include the following:

  • Narrow ear canals where the wax can get stuck
  • Hairy ear canals that trap the wax
  • Working in environments with more dirt and dust causing over productive of protective wax
  • Skin conditions that have inflammatory responses
  • Excessive self-cleaning with foreign objects such as cotton buds and bobby bins, which pushes wax further down the canals into a section where there is no natural conveyer belt mechanism that pushes wax out.

Cotton buds are the number one reason we see people in our clinic due to blocked ears. Whilst it may feel comfortable at the time of use, a cotton bud has nothing on the tip of it to attach and pull wax out of the ear. It is only pushing wax further down the ear canal, causing wax impaction, a likely cause to hearing loss and discomfort. The best advice I learnt on day one of audiology school at university is ‘never ever use cotton buds’. It prevents a lot of problems. Ultimately, ear wax is predominantly harmless and easily treated. Cotton buds are not the way.

What about ear candling?

This is a frequently asked question in our clinics. Ear candles are often sold in our local chemists next to the wax softening sprays and drops. As medical professionals we are surprised to this day that they are still readily available, despite the ear candling posing significant fire hazard and risks to the ear canal. It is categorized under the Food and Drug Administration body (FDA) as unsafe, and they have been warning the public since 2010 of this unsafe practice.

An ear candle contains a flame and wax. Why would you want a hot flame and dripping wax to be so close to your ear canal and eardrum, where the skin in the ear canal is very sensitive. We see burns from this candle wax in our clinics which lead to complications, including great pain, that can be avoided.

Ultimately ear candling is dangerous and lacks scientific evidence to support its claims.

What about ear syringing?

Until recent years, ear syringing at medical clinics was common practice. It involves tilting one’s head so that the practitioner can squirt water into the ear canal at high pressure with hope to flush ear wax out of the canal. Whilst it can remove wax in the ear, there are many risks associated with it and side effects that deem it more dangerous than beneficial.

Risks associated with ear syringing include:

  • Perforation of eardrums due to high water pressure
  • Further wax impaction as it is flushed deeper into the canal
  • Extreme pain (in the event there is an existing perforation, which the practitioner and you may not have been aware of).
  • Hearing loss
  • Ear infection as a result of the moist environment created.

What is the safest way to wax?

1) Preventive Measures: Do nothing. As crazy as it sounds, most people have wax that does not impact their hearing and daily life routines. The wax you see on the outer edge of your ear canal is healthy and shows the canal is naturally pushing it out over time.

2) Use wax softening sprays or oils: The use of a wax spray such as “CleanEars” is designed to soften excessive buildup of wax so that when you see an audiologist it will speed up the process of painless and safe ear wax removal with their medical tools and equipment. It is safe to use. We recommend the brand “CleanEars” as this spray does not dry solid in the ear, whilst other drops may. Ultimately the audiologist will be removing both the softened wax and left over ear spray in your appointment.

3) Microsuction: This is the safest way to remove wax. It is the gold standard procedure completed by a qualified audiologist or Ear Nose and Throat Specialist under magnified view of your ear canal. At Victorian Hearing we have microscopes that allow the audiologist to have a clear view of your ear canal. Microsuction involves specialised instrument equipped with a tiny suction tube that is gently inserted into the ear canal. Using controlled suction, the audiologist carefully removes the wax buildup without causing discomfort or there is no pushing of the wax deeper into the ear. Provided one hasn’t been using cotton buds over the years which leads to hard impacted wax, it’s generally a quick and effective procedure. It ensures thorough removal of ear wax while preserving the integrity of the ear canal and structures. You can think of this as a mini vacuum cleaner for ear wax.

When you are experiencing blocked ears due to ear wax build-up, it is essential that a qualified hearing care specialist professionally removes this blockage to alleviate your symptoms. Your audiologist is your first point of contact. As audiologists, we are trained professionals equipped with the knowledge and tools necessary for safe and effective ear wax removal.

At Victorian Hearing we have the state-of-the-art microscopes and video monitoring systems so you gain access to personalised care tailored for your unique needs, ensuring the preservation of your precious hearing health. All our audiologists are trained in safe ear wax removal. Do not hesitate to make an appointment today.  Call (03) 9558 8842 or book online.

When you schedule an appointment with Victorian Hearing, you’re choosing a local, independent, and Australian owned hearing clinic with 10 convenient locations across Melbourne.