How does earwax blockage occur?

How does earwax blockage occur?

A functioning ear can be cleaned by washing it with a soft cloth, but do not insert anything into the ear. Ideally, you should never have to clean the ear canals. However, this is not always the case. The ears should be cleaned when enough earwax has accumulated to cause symptoms or prevent a necessary examination of the ear by your doctor.

This condition is called cerumen impaction. Most cases of cerumen impaction respond to home treatment that softens the wax. Sufferers can attempt putting a few drops of warmed mineral oil, baby oil, glycerine or commercially available ear drops in the affected ear. Ear drops such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide (available at most chemists) can also help remove wax.

Ear irrigation or ear syringing is commonly used for cleaning and can be done by a doctor or at home with a commercially available irrigation kit. Commonly used rinsing solutions are water and saline, which should be warmed to body temperature to avoid dizziness. Ear irrigation is most effective when water, saline or earwax-dissolving drops are introduced into the ear canal 15 to 30 minutes before treatment. If you have diabetes, a hole in the eardrum (perforation), an eardrum tube, skin problems such as eczema in the ear canal or a weakened immune system, you should refrain from ear irrigation. In fact, home irrigation is a bad idea in general. You should seek treatment from a microsuction specialist.

Manual removal of earwax is also effective. This is usually done by an ear, nose and throat doctor (otolaryngologist) using suction or special miniature instruments and a microscope to magnify the ear canal. Manual removal is preferable if the ear canal is narrow, the eardrum has a perforation or tube, if other methods have failed, or if you have skin problems that affect the ear canal, diabetes or a weakened immune system.

Why is it dangerous to remove earwax with earwax swabs?

Wax blockage is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. It is frequently caused by attempting to clean the ear with cotton swabs (cotton buds). Most attempts with this method simply push the wax further into ear canal, causing more of a blockage at the narrowest part of the ear canal. Also accidental injury to the eardrum or ossicles can happen if the cotton bud is pushed in too far. The ear is a truly amazing, sensitive and extremely complicated part of the body, particularly the skin of the ear-canal and the eardrum. Which means special attention should be paid to this part of the body. Never insert cotton buds or other objects into the ear canals.

There are many causes of earwax blockage, and some people are more at risk than others. Some reasons for earwax build-up are:

  • Narrow ear canals, which are more prone to earwax blockage.

  • Hairy ear canals, which are usually more common in mature men.

  • Skin diseases of the scalp or front of the ear (preauricular area)

Hard earwax ear infections are more common — The earwax becomes harder to move. Both earplugs and hearing aids push the unwanted wax even further into the ear canal towards the delicate eardrum where it penetrates even more.

Ear Wax, also known by the medical term cerumen, is a brown, orange, red, yellowish or grey wax-like substance secreted into the ear canal of humans and other mammals. It helps to protects the skin of the ear canal, assists with cleanind and lubrication, and provides vital protection against things like bacteria, fungi and water.

Cerumen consists of dead skin cells, hair and the cerumen secretion from the cerumen and sebaceous glands of the ear canal. The main components of cerumen are long-chain, saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, alcohols, squalene and cholesterol.

Compaction of excess cerumen consiste of a build-up of earwax in the ear that can plug up the ear canal and press up against the eardrum or even close off the external auditory canal or hearing aids, resulting in hearing loss.

What is earwax made of?

Cerumen is formed in the outer third of the cartilaginous part of the ear canal. It is made from a mixture of thick, greasy secretions that come from the sebaceous glands and less viscous secretions from the modified apocrine sweat glands. The main constitution of cerumen are made of layers of exfoliated skin, with an average of about 60% of cerumen consisting of keratin, 12–20% of long-chain saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, alcohols, squalene and 6–9% cholesterol. Quite amazing when you think about it!

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