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Ear Wax aka Cerumen: Friend or Foe?

Ear wax: we tend to think about it with a negative mindset. However, what if I told you that a little bit of ear wax is a good thing? I know you probably have many thoughts running through your mind. For instance, how much wax is too much? Does wax cause hearing loss and/or tinnitus? How do I properly manage ear wax with so many options available? At Gardner Audiology, we can answer all your questions!  

Advantages of Ear Wax 

  • Natural Protectant: One of my favorite sayings is, “A little bit of wax is a good thing, it keeps the bugs out.” All humor aside, wax protects the ear from foreign bodies including bugs! To elaborate, the wax prevents any foreign bodies (like bugs) from progressing any further down the ear canal and causing damage to the eardrum.  
  • Natural Moisturizer: The ear canal is lined with a very delicate layer of skin. Ear wax acts as a natural skin moisturizer to prevent skin from breaking down, dry ears, and infection.  

Disadvantages of Ear Wax  

  • Hearing Loss: Some individuals accumulate more wax than others and there is not a scientific explanation for it. However, once ear wax fills more than 50% of the ear canal it can compromise our hearing abilities. To elaborate, for us to hear sounds, sounds must first travel through the ear canal before reaching our organ of hearing. How does hearing loss attributed to ear wax occur? Instead of traveling through the ear canal, ear wax essentially forms a cement wall preventing sounds from reaching our organ of hearing.  
  • Tinnitus:  Currently, it is unknown where tinnitus originates from yet there are many theories. One of these theories is that when an individual is deprived of sound, we end up hearing the background generator of our brain (I.e., ringing/roaring/buzzing). Therefore, when there is an overaccumulation of ear wax, we may experience tinnitus due to auditory deprivation.  

Improper Management Techniques of Ear Wax  

  • Cotton Swab: When we insert a cotton swab into our ear canal, we hope that the result will be removing earwax. However, the end of a cotton swab is round rather than shaped like a shovel. Therefore, wax ends up getting shoved further into the ear canal rather than removed.  
  • Hair Pins: When an individual is unsuccessful with cotton swabs, he/she may gravitate towards hair pins. However, on average, our ear canal is only one inch long. The average hair pin is 2-inches. Therefore, the possibility of puncturing your eardrum is increasingly high. Our eardrum is our gateway to hearing and it is extremely important for the eardrum to remain intact.  

Proper Management Techniques for Ear Wax  

  • Health Care Physicians: Your primary care physician, ear nose and throat physicians, and some audiologists are trained in ear wax removal. If you have questions regarding at-home remedies for cerumen removal, please consult your local health physician for recommendations.  

At Gardner Audiology, we are here to address all your hearing needs from ear wax to hearing aids. Have more questions about cerumen management? Contact us at www.gardneraudiology.com or 1-800-277-1182 

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Ashley Brown, B.S., Gardner Audiology Doctoral Extern

Ashley Brown, B.S., Gardner Audiology Doctoral Extern

Ashley Brown, B.S., Gardner Audiology Doctoral Extern

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