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Ears and Ear Wax

Ears and Ear Wax

26 July 2018

A popular anecdote in ear protection is never to put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow. Good intentions and self-directed efforts in ear care and cleaning may cause more damage than good and may even predispose to infection or hearing damage. The ear is a delicate part of the body and special care and attention should be given to this anatomy. The prevailing general advice is to stop the habit of inserting cotton tipped applicators or any other objects into the ears.

Cerumen, or wax as it is commonly known, is a normal secretion of the glands of the ear canals and which is generally thought to be protective, lubricating and having antibacterial properties for the ear. Wax is quite normal and is healthy in normal amounts. In general, the ear is a self-cleansing organ meaning through a slow and ordered mechanism (“epithelial migration”), and jaw movements (normal oral functioning), wax is slowly ejected from the canal in most circumstances.

On the whole and under ideal circumstances, the ear canals should never need to be cleaned however there are always exceptions. The ears should be examined and if required cleaned if wax accumulation is causing symptoms or predisposing to the problem. Wax over accumulation can cause earache, ear fullness, may affect hearing, and cause tinnitus, noises, itching, odour or discharge.

Some people are more likely than others to build-up wax particularly older adults, hearing aid users, people who self-instrument or those who have narrow ear canals. Wax accumulation may also be associated with anxiety, stress or hereditary factors.

If wax removal is required in those experiencing reduced hearing, it may be important to ascertain whether good hearing is restored after management. See your doctor to discuss this. Through consultation, assessment and examination, clinical judgement guides the most appropriate method to address ear care and wax removal. This may include use of olive oil as softening agents as adjunct therapy.

Traditional ear wax evacuation by ear syringing or irrigation has been largely surpassed, due to potential for infection or trauma, by use of micro-suction techniques under direct vision with operating microscope. This is available as a treatment modality at Townsville & Suburban Medical Practice. If ear symptoms trouble you or your hearing is reduced book an appointment for consultation at TSMP or alternatively hearing centres may be able to assess and assist. Also referral to Otolaryngologists for consultation is available if necessary.

Dr. Phong To
BDSc, MBBS, FRACGP
© Townsville & Suburban Medical Practice, 2018.

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