Earwax removal - the benefits.

What exactly is earwax?

Earwax is a natural thick substance created by special cells in the ear. It's made of skin cells, fats, alcohol and cholesterol. It plays an important part in keeping the ear canal clean and healthy; it traps dust and small objects (including insects), helps to sterilize the ear, lubricates the skin and even clears itself out of the ear! Sometimes this self-clearing mechanism fails, perhaps due to too much hair, too much dust/dirt, use of cotton buds or bony growths in the ear (like swimmer's ear).

The effect of too much ear wax

Having too much wax can vary from a very mild inconvenience to a painful disability. The factors that determine its effect include; the amount of wax (the greater the wax the worse the effect), the shape of the wax (does it ‘seal’ the ear?), the position of the wax (is it touching the sensitive eardrum?), the density of the wax (is it compacted into a solid lump?), the age of the wax (older wax is harder and more likely to press against the ear canal when the jaw moves), is there something else with the wax (like a hearing aid ear tip, infectious material, dead skin, cotton wool, dirt/dust, a piece of Lego or a dead insect – yep, it happens!)?

The symptoms of excessive wax:

Looking inside your own ear is not an easy feat, and if you could, would you know exactly what you’re looking at? Instead, we rely on the symptoms of excessive wax:

  • Reduced hearing, normally suddenly after water enters the ear
  • Increased tinnitus (pronounced ‘Tin – it- us’, any noises generated inside your head)hearing problem2
  • The sensation of feeling or hearing something moving in your ear
  • A slight imbalance of sense of loss of equilibrium
  • Your hearing doesn’t change when water gets in your ear

A buildup of earwax is like wearing earplugs and can dull your hearing. Alternatively some people experience intense itching deep inside the ear canal, but if you have pain, or are in doubt, then always check with an audiologist.

Ears blocked with wax can affect your hearing, trap water in your ears (increasing the risk of infection), and cause pain and imbalance. Blocked ears can also hide a multitude of conditions that need medical attention - so have your ears checked and cleared by an expert. 

Signs and symptoms of earwax blockage may include:

  • Earache
  • Feeling of fullness in the affected ear
  • Ringing or noises in the ear (tinnitus)
  • Decreased hearing in the affected ear
  • Dizziness

 

Removing ear wax, the procedure

  • First I'll go through a few simple questions about your ears and related health. Then I'll thoroughly exam your ears; this involves checking both the outside and inside of your nears including the condition of the skin, eardrum, wax, blood supply - in fact everything that's visible! I will tell you exactly what I can see and what (if anything) needs doing. Often there will be wax present in the ear but the condition and position of the wax means that clearing it out is not absolutely necessary. If this is the case I will always let you know so you can decide whether to have it cleared then, or perhaps leave it a few months; my focus is on professionalism, not profit!
  • I'll ask you to sit on a therapy table (like a massage table but elevated so it's more like a reclining chair) I'll Illuminate your ear using a powerful head torch. I do not use a microscope for this procedure because it is not the safest way to perform micro-suction. A small funnel (a speculum) is held just inside your ear to make the canal easier to view. Then I'll insert a fine tube connected to the suction machine. The suction is controlled both on the machine and by my fingers to get the perfect setting for your ears. Because of the suction it can be a bit noisy, and you may find it feels a little cool because of the air being drawn in, but it is only for a short time and will not damage your hearing. There are a variety of noises as the suction machine draws on the wax; sometimes it's silent when the wax seals the suction tube, sometimes it pops when the wax suddenly shoots up the tube and sometimes it 'squeals' when skin or genetic dry wax vibrates in the tube. Throughout the procedure I will be telling you exactly what I'm doing, checking that you are comfortable and visually watching your face to make sure everything is just right for you.
  • The procedure can take anything from 5 minutes to 45 minutes (it's impossible to predict because of the many possible conditions the ear and wax may be in). Typically you will be in and out in under 20 minutes.
  • Many people find the whole procedure extremely relaxing. Very occasionally it can be uncomfortable due to the shape and size of the ear canal or the position of the wax, but this is not common. But it is noisy - as you can imagine having a vacuum cleaner in your ear is not going to be quiet! The noise can be controlled to some degree using various techniques. As a trained Paediatric Audiologist, I provide the quietest and most pain-free ear suctioning available.
  • Removal can be done by syringing - not recommended since very few people perform this procedure safely. The incidence of injury is still too high and now many clinics are shying away from it altogether. But syringing can be perfectly safe when it's being performed by a trained expert. By ear candling – an wholly ineffective technique that weakly draws in cold air and leaves a yellow staining from evaporation. Superficial burning is a significant risk. However, there are some psychological benefits to ear candling (but absolutely no physical benefits). By curettage (manually scooping out wax) – effective and safe only when performed by an expert.

Full professional advice from an Audiologist

Of course excessive wax is not the only thing that can cause these symptoms so your first step is to either see your GP or get an Audiologist to examine your ears. If the Audiologist feels there is an underlying medical issue (other than simply too much wax) then they will direct you to go to see your GP. If your GP feels there is a medical issue that requires a specialist opinion they will refer you to the most appropriate ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) department. Never just ‘Put Up’ with these symptoms, they do need investigating as soon as possible.

At Healthy Ears we can usually see you on the same day to examine your ears, show you by video what’s happening in your ears and if there is simply too much wax or a foreign body in the ear (a foreign body is anything that shouldn’t naturally be in your ear) then we can clear it and eliminate the symptoms. We will always give full professional advice on whether you should seek a GP opinion.

Inside the Ear

  • Wax present in the ear

    I will tell you exactly what I can see and what (if anything) needs doing. Often there will be wax present in the ear but the condition and position of the wax means that clearing it out is not absolutely necessary. If this is the case I will always let you know so you can decide whether to have it cleared then.

    ear

  • Removal can be done by syringing - not recommended since very few people perform this procedure safely. The incidence of injury is still too high and now many clinics are shying away from it altogether. But syringing can be perfectly safe when it's being performed by a trained expert. By ear candling – an wholly ineffective technique that weakly draws in cold air and leaves a yellow staining from evaporation. Superficial burning is a significant risk. However, there are some psychological benefits to ear candling (but absolutely no physical benefits). By curettage (manually scooping out wax) – effective and safe only when performed by an expert.