Earwax or cerumen is a yellowish, waxy material inside the ear, it produced by the sebaceous gland in the ear canal. This substances continually cleans, moisturizes, cleans, and protects the lining of the ear canal. Its water repellant properties helps trap dirt, blocks insects, bacteria, and other foreign microorganisms in getting through the ear canal and damaging the eardrum. It also protects ear canal skin from irritation to water. As wax builds up, the excess wax naturally finds its way out of the canal and into the ear opening, and removes itself from the ear. Besides the waxy material, it comprises mainly of shed layers of skin.
It contains 60% percent keratin, 12 – 20% saturated and unsaturated long-chain fatty acids, squalene, and alcohols, 6 – 9% cholesterol.
Earwax has antibacterial properties as well as slightly acidic. If the ear canal doesn’t have enough it will become dry, waterlogged, and open to infection. On the other hand, when it accumulates too much or becomes hard, it can cause hearing problems as it forms a plug that blocks the ear. A blocked ear might be painful and can affect hearing.
Earwax can be irritating when it builds up and becomes itchy. Do not pick and prod during these circumstances as it can make it worse when you accidentally scratch and damage your ear’s fragile tissues. You might even make yourself prone to infection.
A wax blockage may cause the following symptoms:
- ear infections
- a feeling of fullness in the ear
- tinnitus or ringing in the ear
- persistent cough, due to pressure from the blockage unnecessarily stimulating a nerve in the ear
- vertigo, or loss of balance which leads to dizziness and nausea
An excessive wax buildup is the reason behind many hearing-aid faults. Remember to avoid putting anything in the ear when trying to clean your ears by clearing it. Using cotton swabs and other objects in the ear can push the wax further down further into the canal and make it worse.
If you are some of the people who naturally produce a lot of wax, then you are more likely to have an wax blockage and impaction. This is where the wax gets pushed deep inside the ear canal. Swimming can also cause the excessive production of wax.
Hearing aids and the daily use of earplugs prevent wax from falling out of the ear naturally, which leads to accumulation inside the ear. The use of items to remove it such as cotton swabs, Q-tips, bobby pins, napkins, or keys, or those that relieve itching can make the buildup worse. These items can push the wax deeper into the ear canal or cause permanent damage to your ears. Seek a healthcare professional if the need to clean or remove it is necessary.
Dr. Kanwar Kelley is located at Orinda California and if you are suffering from earwax(cerumen), don’t hesitate to make an appointment (925) 254-6710. He is an experienced physician in many illnesses who can guide your health in the right direction.