What is Impacted Ear Wax?

An ear nurse removing impacted ear wax

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Bees aren’t the only creatures that make wax. Your ears produce quite a bit of it. And it’s quite a fantastic substance that cleanses and protects your ears.

Most of the time, you should leave your earwax alone and let it get on with its job. Earwax only becomes a problem when it builds up and begins to block your ears. That’s called impacted earwax.

Earwax is like a gentle, antibacterial, antifungal stream that begins inside your ear canal and flows to your outer ear. When you chew or talk, your jaw movement nudges your earwax along. Its ongoing journey cleanses your ears, mopping up dirt, hair and dead skin cells along the way. It also protects your ears from infection, injury and moisture.

You might not love earwax, but you’d miss it if it weren’t there. You’d have itchy, uncomfortable ears that had no way of cleaning themselves.

What Causes Impacted Earwax?

Impacted earwax can be the result of the following:

  • Something is blocking your ears and making it hard for your earwax to pass.
  • You are producing too much earwax, which your body can’t remove fast enough.

There are several contributing conditions for impacted earwax, including:

  • Hairy ear canals (that can get fuzzier as you age).
  • A narrow ear canal (maybe you were born like that, or an injury or long-term inflammation narrowed it, making it harder for earwax to get out).
  • Repeated use of objects in your ears, such as hearing aids, earplugs or cotton swabs (or maybe sultanas or LEGO pieces if it’s your kid we’re talking about).
  • Ear infections can cause swelling, making it hard for earwax to escape.
  • Eczema (those extra bits of dry, flaking skin can harden your earwax).
  • Bony growths (exostosis) may contribute to ear blockage.

What Are the Symptoms of Impacted Earwax?

You might not notice any symptoms until you have quite a bit of earwax. And if you do, you might not realise they’re due to ear wax because they could also be symptoms of other medical conditions. That’s why you need your ear nurse, doctor or audiologist to check your ears.

Earwax blockage symptoms include:

  • Ears that feel full
  • Hearing loss
  • Earache
  • Dizziness
  • Hearing loss
  • Itchy ears
  • Coughing

That’s right, coughing. If a blob of earwax is pressing on your vagus nerve that supplies the outer ear, it can make you cough.

Your GP or Ear Health practitioner will determine if you have impacted ear wax by looking inside your ear. Sometimes, you may have impacted earwax when you need an ear check, and your doctor can’t see inside your ear correctly because there’s too much earwax.

Can You Remove Impacted Earwax at Home?

You do not remove impacted earwax by poking around inside your ear with a cotton bud, pencil, bobby pin or anything else. Doing so risks injuring your ear canal or even puncturing your eardrum. Many people who try to dig out their earwax worsen the problem by pushing it further into their ears.

Some over-the-counter treatments for impacted earwax aim to soften it so it makes its way out. However, impacted earwax can be stubborn or resistant to irrigation and ear drops.

In 2018, the Cochrane Collaboration reviewed the evidence for ear wax removal using drops. They found that the available evidence was low quality but concluded that ear drops might help remove excess wax. They looked at oil-based and water-based drops, using water alone or salty water (saline). They found that no one type of drop was better than any other. And they also couldn’t say that drops containing active ingredients were any better than plain or salty water.

So, ear drops may not be worth the money or the effort if they’re not much better than using water. And please don’t use ear drops before your appointment at Ear Health as it can make cleaning your ears by microsuction almost impossible.

Treatments for Impacted Earwax at Ear Health

At Ear Health, we use microsuction to remove impacted earwax.

It’s usually a fifteen to twenty-minute procedure where your practitioner looks into your ears using a microscope or surgical loupe. Then using a small, thin tube, a vacuum removes your earwax and any debris from your ears. The vacuum isn’t very loud but can seem loud because it’s happening right in your ear canal.

It’s over fairly quickly, and you can talk to us during the procedure – we can stop and start as necessary to ensure you’re comfortable. If you need earwax removal, please make an appointment today.

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