Written by Michael Parker (Audiologist – Melbourne office)
Earwax is the brownish-yellow substance produced in the ear canal. Despite its bad rap, ear wax plays an important part in maintaining a healthy outer ear. In healthy amounts, wax helps to clean the canal as it naturally migrates out of the ear; lubricates the ear to prevent itchiness; and keeps the ear healthy by reducing the risk of fungal and bacterial infections.
For the majority of the problem, the wax is not a reason to be concerned and should be left alone. However, for some, large amounts of wax can accumulate and cause difficulties. A good indicator that you have too much wax is if you feel you’re not hearing as well. Excess wax can accumulate and create a plug in the ear, which stops sound from reaching the ear drum.
Further, for hearing aid users, large amounts of wax can get inside electronics and block speakers if they get inside devices. If you feel like you have a wax build-up then the best way to confirm this is to have an audiologist, or trained medical professional, examine your ear canals with an otoscope.
In cases where the excess wax is found, it can be removed via syringing, a curette, or suction. Sometimes, where the wax has hardened, the professional may advise you to use an ear-wax softener to make it easier to remove. Despite popular practice, wax should never be attempted to be removed via cotton buds. This can cause irritation and push wax further down the canal, increasing the risk of creating a plug. Ear candling should also be avoided as studies have shown that it does not remove the excess wax and that it can lead to serious injury (Seely, Quigley, & Langman, 1996; Rafferty, Tsikoudas, & Davis, 2007).
If you are concerned regarding the amount of wax in your ears, speak to your GP or audiologist at your next appointment. Your healthcare professional can then examine your ear and recommend a treatment if they deem it is required.
Rafferty, J., Tsikoudas, A., & Davis, B. C. (2007). Ear Candling: Should general practitioners recommend it?Canadian Family Physician, 53(12), 2121-2122.
Seely, D. R., Quigley, S. M., & Langman, A. W. (1996). Ear candles — efficacy and safety. Laryngoscope, 106(10), 1226-9.