Normally, ear wax — the sticky, orangey-brown substance secreted by glands within the ear — supports one’s health by catching foreign particles before they can penetrate the inner ear. In some individuals, however, this secretion is produced in abnormally large quantities or fails to drain properly, leading to excessive ear wax. This condition can lead to a range of problems, from ear pain to compromised hearing. Luckily, with the help of a physician, excessive wax in the ear can usually be treated fairly easily.
In most individuals, ear wax gradually makes its way from the site of its production to the outer ear. Once it has reached the outer ear, it usually falls out or is unconsciously rinsed away during bathing. For reasons that are not fully understood by researchers, however, this self-cleaning process is impaired in some people. These individuals may produce abnormally large quantities of ear wax or their ear wax may resist the natural drainage process. In either circumstance, they eventually experience a buildup of ear wax.
This excessive ear wax typically hardens over time, often leading to a range of ear problems. For instance, the wax can cause discomfort or even pain in the affected ear. It can also lead to diminished hearing or the perception of ringing or wave-like noises, a condition known as tinnitus. Luckily, the problems caused by excessive ear wax are usually impermanent, and are generally resolved by the removal of the wax buildup.
The removal of ear wax is often a fairly simple procedure. Nevertheless, due to the fragile nature of the inner ear, wax removal should in most cases be performed by a physician. The two most commonly used techniques for the elimination of a wax blockage are irrigation and curette scraping.
To remove excessive ear wax by irrigation, a physician uses a syringe to spray a gentle stream of warm water or saline solution into the affected ear. The solution causes the wax blockage to soften and drain from or fall out of the ear. This process may need to be repeated several times before the wax becomes dislodged.
Some physicians favor treating excess wax with a small, scoop-shaped tool called a curette. The curette is gently inserted into the affected ear. Then, the physician simply scoops the ear wax blockage out of the ear.
Those experiencing an ear wax blockage may be tempted to try treating it at home. However, sometimes symptoms which suggest a blockage may actually result from a more serious condition. Further, the delicate structures of the inner ear can be easily damaged by improperly used cotton swabs or other cleaning devices. Therefore, while excessive ear wax may seem like a minor health concern, affected individuals should consult a physician for evaluation.