A recent hot topic in our field is ear wax. What is this mysterious substance? Is it normal? How do we manage it?

Our ear canals provide a path for sound to reach our eardrums. This is how we receive sounds. Anything that could block this pathway can make it harder to hear. It can also cause our ears to feel blocked or “plugged.”

doctor clearing out ear wax from young boy's ear

One thing that can block the canal is ear wax, or “cerumen.” This is a natural secretion produced in our skin. It lubricates the canal and is toxic to many bacteria, fungus and insects. It is part of our immune system. Your ear is supposed to produce it. Wax is only a problem if it causes a blockage and interferes with hearing.

When an ear is blocked by wax, you will hear less sound and may feel “plugged.” It is important to have your ears inspected by a professional. Other conditions can cause these sensations as well. If it is determined that wax is blocking your ear, allow a physician, nurse or audiologist to remove it. There are no safe and effective home gadgets for removing wax. Over the counter ear drops can soften the wax, however, do not attempt to put any instrument in your own ear. You can’t see your own ear canal; the skin is very thin, and you can damage your eardrum. Clearing ear wax is not worth a trip to the emergency room. Never allow anyone to put a lit candle in your ear.

Approved methods of ear wax removal include curette, suction, or irrigation. Allow the practitioner to use the method he or she is most comfortable with. Wax can usually be cleared safely in several minutes.

If your ears are not blocked with wax, you may have other conditions that need to be evaluated. You may have a condition of the middle ear or inner ear. These require prompt medical attention. Never delay getting attention for a change in hearing or an unusual sensation in your ears.

The first step is a thorough examination of the ears by an audiologist or otolaryngologist. As always, we wish to keep you on a clear path to good hearing and ear health.

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