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You might have noticed the yellowish, brown, and maybe black pieces of wax that are in your ears. This may appear as gross, dirty, and a nuisance to some people, but what, exactly, is ear wax?
What is earwax?
Ear wax, or cerumen, is produced in the external auditory or ear canal. It helps protect and moisturize the ear canal, protects the external canal from infections, and assists in trapping small foreign bodies from going deeper into the canal.
Ear wax can be moist, dry, or somewhere in between. Genetics, environment, and possibly allergies can determine the type of consistency of wax that you have.
Can earwax cause problems?
Ears are mostly self-cleaning and are designed to move wax from the deep ear canal out to the opening of the ear canal. However, some people do have excess wax. They include people with narrow or hairy ear canals, or those that are abnormally shaped due to a variety of reasons.
Should I clean my ears?
While many people think they should clean their ears with Q-tips, some doctors strongly advise against it, as it can cause cerumen impaction and even ear trauma, CEENTA ENT doctor Chad Kessler, MD, said. People who wear hearing aids can also experience cerumen impaction.
Cerumen impaction is very common, with about 12 million people a year seeing a doctor for it. This accumulation of earwax in the ear canal can cause hearing loss, pain, itching, ringing in the ears, drainage, a sense of fullness in the ears, or even a cough. Earwax can also prevent the ear from being adequately examined.
People are also advised to not try ear candling, which is a system used to melt wax to draw cerumen out of the ears with the vortex that is created, since serious injury can occur.
If you do have excess earwax and you think it needs to be removed, consult a doctor.The physician may completely remove the cerumen in the office using instruments, suctions and gentle irrigation, Dr. Kessler said. Sometimes they also may recommend an over-the-counter remedy, or they may suggest or prescribe different types of ear drops.
Earwax is very useful, but if you have concerns with how much you produce or whether it’s causing you problems, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with an ENT doctor today.
This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. Dr. Kessler practices in our Rock Hill office. Are you looking for an ENT doctor where you live? Call 704-295-3000. You can also request an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.
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Many people think they need to remove the earwax in the ears with Q-tips or other cleaning methods. But doctors have long said it is unsafe, and the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery has published a new guideline on cerumen impaction that reiterates that point.
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