Ear wax plays an important role as a barrier to stop debris, dust and bacteria from going deep into your ear canal and eardrum. It also prevents inflammation and infection.
“A lot of people believe in the common misconception that ear wax is dirty when actually, it is a really important part of keeping your ears healthy,” said Zach Schleier, a certified family nurse practitioner at UCHealth Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic in Steamboat Springs. “Wax is normal. Wax is a healthy thing. Wax is supposed to be there.”
Ear wax is a natural barrier
While ear wax is the body’s perfect gatekeeper for germs entering the ear, some people make it their mission to remove it. The old adage, “Don’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear,” is actually a correct one when it comes to keeping your ears healthy.
“Some people get so addicted to cotton swabs and trying to keep their ears squeaky clean when, really, they’re doing more harm than good,” Schleier said. “Using cotton swabs can actually push the wax further down into the ear canal toward the ear drum.”
Some people may have an overproduction of ear wax, which can be a nuisance, whereas, for other people, it causes more serious issues. Typically, a muffled sound in the ear or decreased hearing are tell-tale signs that your ear needs some triage.
Schleier said about one in 10 children, one in 20 adults and one in three people over the age of 65 have problems because of too much ear wax.
“Most of the people we see with impacted ear wax are older adults,” he said, “but we do see some younger patients who are just genetically prone to it.”
Whether it’s caused by narrow ear canals, an injury or an overproduction of wax, relief is usually easy to obtain.
Remedies for overproduction of ear wax
If you or someone in your care happens to have excess ear wax, Schleier recommends the occasional use of the following safe, over-the-counter remedies:
- Ear flushing kits.
- A diluted solution of water and hydrogen peroxide dropped in the ears two to three times per week to help soften wax.
- Seniors may benefit from a few drops of mineral oil one or two times a week to help lubricate dry and/or flaky wax.
If these actions do not help, Schleier suggests seeing a primary care physician who can flush the ear. If patients require further help or need more frequent or scheduled treatments, an ENT can perform a specialized ear cleaning using a microscopic cleaning procedure.
One device Schleier does not recommend is an “ear candle,” which involves placing a lit and hollow candle in the ear to remove earwax.
“You really shouldn’t be putting anything in your ear, as the ear canal is very sensitive,” he said. “Thousands of years of evolution has perfected our body’s ability to keep ears clean, and for most people, the best way to take care of them is to leave them alone.”
This story first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot.