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Ear Wax

I’d like to take this opportunity to say a few words about ear wax. Ear wax, also known as cerumen, is a protective secretion produced by modified sweat glands of the outer portion of the ear canal. When the outer ear is functioning properly, ear wax forms a protective coating to which particulate matter that might enter the canal will adhere. Ear wax is supposed to exit the ear canal along with the natural migration of the superficial (dead) skin layer of the ear canal. Of course, for some people, this function does not always work as designed. Cerumen may accumulate to the point of impacting the ear canal if it is over-produced, inadequately cleared by the canal skin, or the characteristics of the wax is atypical, making it too tenacious to self-clear.

Symptoms from impacted ear wax include mild to severe fullness in the affected ear(s), hearing loss, and impaired equilibrium. Ear wax accumulation is also the most common cause of hearing aid failure.

Over-the-counter remedies for ear wax include drops to soften the wax (but rarely remove it) and gentle ear-flushing products which are of somewhat higher efficacy. The gold-standard, of course, is to have the ears cleaned thoroughly by a health professional such as an ear, nose & throat physician. This may include the use of a curette, suction, or syringe to flush the ear. Some people require cerumen removal as frequently as every 2 or 3 months, but this is not common. We generally recommend that new hearing aid patients have their ears cleaned every 6 months, until a schedule can be determined based upon the observed individual’s needs.