Though it’s far from a glamorous topic, it’s important to talk about earwax when discussing hearing loss. This is because a blockage of the ear canal by earwax could potentially be the cause of temporary hearing loss or tinnitus.
The reason it is so crucial to get your ears checked by an audiologist or other hearing health professional is that you can’t be sure until you get your ears examined whether you have age-related hearing loss, an earwax blockage or something potentially more serious causing your hearing loss. It could be as simple as needing a wax removal. Here’s what to know about earwax:
Earwax, or cerumen, is actually important for our ears, providing it’s present in small quantities. The role of earwax – yes, it actually has a purpose – is to trap and move errant skin cells, dirt and dust away from the eardrum and toward the ear opening. This substance has antibacterial properties, and it also protects delicate skin in the ear canal from irritation when water is present.
How does it cause problems?
Some people’s ears are just genetically prone to producing too much wax. These people are more likely than others to have an earwax blockage.
However, sometimes the things we do to our ears in an effort to clean them can also cause impacted earwax! Doctors recommend never putting cotton-tipped applicators, bobby pins or other probing things in the ears, because these typically push the wax in deeper where it isn’t meant to be: against the eardrum. There is also a trend in using ear candles to heat the wax and remove it from your ears, but this is very unsafe and should never be done.
How to have your ears cleaned
Most people do not need to clean deep into their ears. The muscles of the jaw, usually when chewing, move the earwax very slowly to the outer part of the year. It’s OK to use a warm washcloth to clean your outer ears, but refrain from putting your fingers or other things inside.
However, for people with excess wax, it’s a good idea to see your doctor every six or 12 months for an exam and routine preventative cleaning.
Hearing loss and earwax
If you have sudden hearing loss or tinnitus, it’s important to visit your doctor right away. As mentioned earlier, a very common cause of sudden hearing loss is earwax blockage, which a hearing health care professional can remove.
If you having hearing loss and wear hearing aids or other devices, wax buildup can also be a problem. Make sure to use the little pick and tools frequently to remove wax and to clean the wax trap if your devices have them. Wax buildup on hearing aids can cause them to stop working. If you need help cleaning them, recruit a family member or friend, or bring them into your audiologist’s office.