Understanding the basics of ear wax

Have you ever experienced discomfort, reduced hearing or even earaches?

If so, you may have encountered the common but often misunderstood issue of ear wax. You are not alone.

Ear wax is a natural substance produced by our bodies to protect and lubricate our ears. However, it can sometimes build up and cause problems if not managed properly.

Understanding the basics of ear wax

What is ear wax? 

Ear wax, also known as cerumen, is a natural substance produced by the ear canal glands. It is a mixture of dead skin cells, hair, and secretions from the glands.  

Why do we have ear wax?  

It serves several essential functions, including protecting and lubricating the ear canal, trapping dirt and debris before it can reach the eardrum, and preventing infections by creating an acidic environment that inhibits the growth of bacteria and fungi.  

Additionally, ear wax contains antibodies and enzymes that help fight off harmful microorganisms. Without ear wax, the delicate skin inside the ear canal would be vulnerable to injury and infection. 

What issues can ear wax cause? 

While ear wax is a normal and necessary part of ear health, too much of it can lead to problems. Excessive ear wax can cause a blockage in the ear canal, leading to hearing loss, pain, tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ear) and even infections. In fact, earwax buildup is one of the most common reasons for ear-related complaints. 

Wax blockage can be caused by a narrow or bendy ear canal, using cotton buds or other foreign objects in the ear, and wearing hearing aids. 

How can I clean my ears from wax? 

Your ears are ‘self-cleaning’, and wax will typically migrate out of the ear on its own. It only becomes a problem if it is blocking your ear and affecting your hearing. 

Some people naturally produce more ear wax than others. Certain activities can also contribute to its buildup, such as using earbuds or earplugs, using cotton swabs to clean the ears, or exposing the ears to high levels of dust or pollution. 

If you suspect a wax blockage, you can attend a Lions Hearing Clinic for wax removal. However, if the wax is too deep or impacted, we may need to refer it to a medical practitioner. 

If you are attending for wax removal, it is a good idea to use wax softening drops (available over the counter at the pharmacy) for a few days prior to your appointment. 

Why should I not use cotton buds? 

Often when we use cotton buds to remove wax, we don’t realise that we will push some of the wax further down the canal. Over time this wax can accumulate and block the ear. The deeper the wax has been pushed into the canal, the more difficult it will be to remove. 

In addition, the use of cotton buds is also the major reason for injury to the eardrum. 

I have had the wax removed, why do my ears still feel blocked? 

Many people describe a similar blocked sensation when they have an unaddressed hearing loss, as when they have a wax blockage. If you have wax removed from your ears, but they still feel blocked or you’re still not hearing your best, it is important to book an appointment to check your hearing. 

Ear Wax Microsuction Appointment

During a 30-minute appointment, the audiologist will complete a comprehensive ear health check, wax micro-suction and hearing screening.

Available at Subiaco, Gwelup & Winthrop clinics

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