Doctor explains how to safely remove ear wax
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There are many reasons why we have earwax but ultimately its function is to protect and clear the ear, taking trapped dirt and debris with it when it falls out. Its sticky texture prevents bacteria and germs from moving further into the ear and causing infections and helps keep out any unwelcome guests. Earwax also helps lubricate the skin and maintains the ear’s natural PH balance to prevent irritation and dryness.
According to Mr Misha Verkerk FRCS, Clinical Director of Auris Ear Care, the colour of your ear wax is not a good way to tell if you are healthy or not.
But he advised Express Health: “Healthy ear wax can vary in colour from white, yellow, brown or black!
“Wet or dry ear wax is also healthy – this is something you have inherited from your parents.”
But he added: “If you have green or smelly ear wax, or if your ear is bleeding – this could indicate an infection and you should seek a medical opinion urgently.”
Usually your body will produce enough earwax to maintain ear health but sometimes this wax can become hard or impacted, which can lead to problems such as hearing loss or discomfort.
There are different types of earwax. More than 100 years ago, researchers in Japan (Kishi, 1907) discovered humans have two main types:
- Dry flaky ear wax, commonly found in East Asians
- Wet, sticky ear wax, found in other populations such as Europeans
Flaky ear wax tends to be lighter in colour than wet, sticky ear wax, said Verkerk.
What are the signs of excess earwax? Specsavers chief audiologist, Gordon Harrison, outlines the symptoms to look out for.
He said: “If your ears are blocked with wax it can sometimes feel as if you’ve lost your hearing as noises can become more muffled.
“You may experience ringing or a popping sensation or feel pain or a ‘fullness’ in your ear.
“It’s a strange sensation and can be disconcerting if you haven’t experienced it before.”
How can you prevent earwax build-up?
The best thing to do is to avoid putting anything in your ears that could push earwax further into your ear canal and lead to impacted wax, infection or even a perforated ear drum, said Harrison.
He continued: “It is extremely important not to put things such as cotton buds, ear candles, match sticks, hair grips and pencils (yes really) in your ears to rid them of any build up.
“It’s also important to keep your ears clean. You should regularly wipe around the outside of your ear, particularly after showering or washing your face.”
So what should you do if your ears become blocked?
Earwax does usually fall out on its own. If it doesn’t and causes a persistent blockage, it’s best to seek professional advice.
Harrison recommended: “Ear drops or olive oil can help to soften the wax. This is generally carried out for three to five days before a wax removal appointment.
“However, these drops can cause the earwax to expand, making the blockage worse and potentially causing further irritation.
“If you develop a foul taste in your mouth, you should cease using the drops immediately.
“If you have any concerns about using these products you should always consult your pharmacist or GP.
“If ear wax is a persistent problem and the blockage remains, it is best to speak to an audiologist.”
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