Cerumen (more commonly known as ear wax) is an oily, waxy substance produced by our ears. Its purpose is to protect the delicate skin in the ear canal and trap foreign bodies, bacteria, and viruses. Cerumen is produced in the outer portion of the ear canal, where the skin is lined with hair follicles. In most ears, old wax is carried out of the ear canal by the natural process of skin renewal, whereby the outer layer of skin cells is shed from the ears. Therefore, most ears are "self-cleaning." The only additional cleaning needed is the removal of wax that has migrated out of the ear canal, where it can then be removed with tissue or a soft cloth.
The typical ear canal tapers from a relatively large opening to a narrow channel at the eardrum, and there usually are several distinct bends along its length. Because of this anatomy, using cotton swabs to clean or relieve itching in the ear can cause a build-up of wax behind the bends or at the narrow part of the canal. This wax eventually becomes impacted and requires professional removal.
Regular use of deep-fitting earplugs or hearing aids can also cause an excessive build-up of wax in the canal. While hearing is generally not affected by mild or moderate wax build-up, impacted wax can cause hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing or hissing sounds in the ear), a feeling of pain or fullness in the ear, and dizziness.
Video otoscopy – visual inspection of the ear, with the results displayed on a video monitor - is used to determine whether there is excessive wax in the ear canal. If excessive wax is found (especially if it is hardened and/or darkened, which indicates that it has been in place for quite some time) or if the wax is obstructing a clear view of the eardrum, then professional ear cleaning is needed.
Most people will not need to have their ears professionally cleaned. Some will need the service periodically, and others will need it routinely. Contact your audiologist if you need specific advice on how to clean your ears or if you are experiencing any of the following:
Our audiologist, Dr. Chris Hoffmann, is trained and experienced in safely removing wax from the ear canal. She uses a head-worn microscope to visualize the ear canal during the procedure. Depending on the shape and size of the ear canal, she may use a speculum to keep the ear canal open and improve visibility. She may also use a variety of instruments such as curettes, forceps, and suction to remove the wax from the canal. If the wax is very impacted, she may use a solution to soften the wax so that it can be removed comfortably.
If you think you need your ears to be professionally cleaned, call us today at 949-536-5180 or schedule an appointment.
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