Hearing Loss

Could Earwax Be Causing Your Hearing Loss?

Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about earwax! Learn how it impacts hearing loss and how to remove it safely.

What Is Earwax? 

Earwax is a substance your body naturally produces which is made of 20-50% fat. Earwax coats the ear canal to moisturize it, prevent infections,and keep dust, dirt and debris from getting deep inside your ear. Most people make enough ear wax, but if you have too little ear wax your ears can become dry, itchy and prone to infection. 

Earwax accumulation does not reflect poor personal hygiene. 

Is earwax the same as cerumen?

Yes. The scientific name for earwax is cerumen. Cerumen impactions occur when earwax combines with dust, dandruff, and other particles that reach the ear canal - these hard balls of earwax can be removed by special tools or liquid solutions. 

How does a doctor check for earwax buildup?

A doctor diagnoses earwax accumulation by examining the ear with a viewing tube, or otoscope.

Should I remove earwax with a cotton swab?

Not so fast! Just about every single audiologist - including our guest audiologist Dr. Heather Parrish - will tell you that individuals risk doing more harm than good when using cotton swabs to remove earwax.
Earwax is moved out of the ear canal naturally, carrying with it unwanted debris like dandruff and dead skin cells. This cyclical process functions like an assembly line and continually moves cerumen out on a regular basis. 

Cotton swab calamities are a major cause of ear-related ER visits among U.S. adults. When you use a Q-tip or other similar device to remove earwax from the ear you risk pushing it in even further, causing harm. Luckily, when chew, eat or move your jaw, that motion actually causes earwax to self-clean out of the ear canal. 
About 66 percent of patients treated for tympanic membrane perforations had hurt themselves by sticking “instruments,” in their ear. Nearly half of these cases involved cotton-tipped swabs. 
About 66 percent of patients treated for tympanic membrane perforations had hurt themselves by sticking “instruments,” in their ear. Nearly half of these cases involved cotton-tipped swabs. 

What is the texture of earwax?

Earwax should naturally be soft, semi-moist and pliant. However, as it starts to collect it becomes dry and darker. Research shows that Caucasians and African-Americans are likely to have the wet type and Asians are more likely to have the dry type of cerumen. 

Why is too much earwax bad for you? 

Long-standing impactions can harden and block conduction of sound in the air drum, leading to hearing loss. When hearing loss is suspected, or a person with existing hearing loss experiences increasing difficulty. This is why hearing care specialists first check for cerumen impaction as a possible cause of hearing loss

What is the risk associated with cerumen impactions?

Cerumen impactions are prevalent and increase with age. Hardened impactions have been observed in about 33% of long-term care facility patients (Source). In addition, this study found that cerumen impactions caused a significant degree of hearing loss. 

However, there is good news! Your hearing loss could be due to a simple accumulation of earwax buildup. Removing earwax has been shown to increase hearing thresholds. 

Earwax removal improves hearing ability 

The Journal of Advanced Nursing published a study which found that removal of cerumen significantly improved hearing ability. Once impacted cerumen was removed, improved hearing scores were obtained in 75.0% of participants, “with subjects hearing from one to three more tones per ear on the second hearing test.” 

And just between us - You’d be grossed out to see what some audiologists have pulled out from their patients’ ears.
And just between us - You’d be grossed out to see what some audiologists have pulled out from their patients’ ears.

In-home earwax treatment: How to remove earwax at home

Learn how to remove earwax at home by following these simple tips. Earwax can be removed through irrigation, manual extraction, or softening agents. In some cases, earwax can be softened or dissolved at home with mineral oil or baby oil. Alternatively, a nonprescription oil preparation specifically designed to soften and dissolve earwax can be used. Whichever softening liquid is used, several drops should be put in the ear canal and retained there for about 15 minutes by tilting the head to one side. 

If using hydrogen peroxide wait for the solution to stop bubbling before tilting your head and pouring it out. Gently flushing the ear in a warm shower, or repeating the procedure over and over can also assist in earwax removal. Do not attempt to clean the inner ear with liquids if you have a tympanic rupture!

See a hearing professional if the problem is more serious

Although we tend to think of earwax as gross, it is a natural part of the body. However, too much of it - as evidenced above - can cause problems and blockages. 

If you feel you have a hearing loss, there may be a blockage, infection, or inflamed part of the ear that is not allowing sound to pass from the outside world to the eardrum of the ear. The best course of action is to have your local hearing care specialist check it. 

Why should I check my ears for hearing loss?

In some rare cases individuals who think they have a hearing loss are told by their hearing care specialist that “it was earwax the whole time.” Click here to book an appointment with a hearing professional

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