Updated: May 10, 2022
Is it bad to remove earwax? The short answer is yes, it is not healthy to wipe out all your ear wax.
Earwax, or 'cerumen', is a sign of a normal, healthy ear and actually performs an essential service for us. This waxy substance coats the thin skin which lines the ear canal; only 1 mm thick at the entrance and getting thinner the further down the canal you go, to only a tenth of a millimetre at the eardrum! It prevents the ear canal from becoming too wet or too dry and its antibacterial properties help to prevent any irritation or infection when trapping any particles of dust, dirt or dead skin cells and then absorbing the debris.
The ear is self-cleaning and will usually make as much wax as it needs.
The movement of the jaw when eating or talking, for example, helps to move the old earwax out of the inner ear and into the ear opening where it can fall out naturally. This action, along with normal bathing is usually enough to keep earwax at a normal level. The composition of your earwax can depend on a number of factors such as your age, ethnicity, environment and even your diet can make a difference.
How does it feel when one has excessive ear wax in the ear?
Those with a build-up of earwax could experience a feeling of fullness ear (like when you put your head under the water in a swimming pool), pain in the ear, partial hearing loss or even tinnitus, it can even affect your balance. There can also be itching, a discharge or smell, coughing and spells of dizziness none of which can be said to be pleasant.
So, why do my ears generate excessive ear wax?
As you age your earwax becomes harder and tends to be more and more difficult to move out naturally. A combination of the following reasons could cause the generation of excessive ear wax in your ears:
Growing tiny hairs in your ear (this can also start from an early age)
Fading of oil generation glands in your skin
Narrow ear canal
A specific diet (e.g. drinking a lot of coffee makes your skin dry, hence harder for the debris in your ear to move out)
Ethnicity (some people make more ear wax in the ear than others, simply for genetic reasons)
Using hearing aids, earbuds or headphones (blocking your ear canal does not help transport the debris out, right?)
The shape of the ear canal (some ear canals are straight and others are bendy. In my experience, a bendy ear canal is more likely to slow down the transport of the debris out and result in the deposition of ear wax)
What can I do about ear wax build-up in my ears?
Firstly it is important to know the correct course of action to take if you have a build-up of earwax or 'cerumenosis'. As a first step you can buy 'over-the-counter' ear drops which can help to soften the wax and may relieve some symptoms, but any actual removal of wax needs to be done by trained professionals in a clinical setting. This is because the ear canal and the eardrum are very delicate structures which always need to be treated with care and respect. It's certainly never a good idea to stick anything into your ear, especially a child's, because of the risk of infection or permanent damage to your hearing that can occur.
Using a 'cotton bud' to remove wax can actually have the opposite effect as it can push the wax further into your ear canal making it impacted and harder to remove. Large clumps of wax pushed down into the ear in this way can lead to painful ear infections, a rupture of the eardrum and many other unpleasant symptoms.
Do you recommend water irrigation or microsuction to remove ear wax?
Despite NHS direction in stopping water irrigation to remove ear wax, some surgeries still offer it to their patients. Every now and then I receive a patient that has gone through water irrigation for her/his ear wax treatment and water irrigation just made the case worse.
The reason is that the water irrigation by the concept and by technique is a shot-in-the-dark. Let me explain this a bit further. Water irrigation in the ear is simply applying of a water jet through a nosel in your ear canal and hope for the ear wax to come out. There is no visual and there is no control over where the water jet is shooting to. Most of the patients I have received after an unsuccessful attempt of water irrigation in our Dulwich and Sydenham clinics confirmed that their experience was "painful and very irritating". Often the ear wax that usually is deposited in the outer two-thirds of the ear canal has been circulated around and more critically stuck to the eardrum as a result of water irrigation.
If the water irrigation to remove your ear wax is not successful the patient might feel from a blocked ear to a painful ear with a hearing loss. The pain and the hearing loss often happen because some of the ear wax has been pushed and forced stuck to the eardrum. And some water will be trapped behind the ear wax putting your ears at the risk of infection.
Another common issue is that after an unsuccessful water irrigation to remove ear wax the GP prescribes ear infection sprays. That is because an unsuccessful water irrigation would likely leave some water behind the ear wax. The bacteria in the water and in your ear canal finds a perfect condition to grow to an ear infection.
What is the verdict?
If you are worried about your ears having excessive ear wax contact your audiologist for a quick ear examination. If there is a deposition of ear wax apply Earol (get a 10ml jar from your local pharmacy) for 3-5 days prior to the procedure and try microsuction (only).
When you got back your ears clean and healthy, try applying 2-3 drops of Earol for 2-3 days, every 2-3 weeks. The olive oil in Earol help provide the same natural lubricated environment to your ear canal. There is nothing wrong in using Earol more often if you feel that your ears generate a lot of ear wax.
Have questions about your ears, ear wax (earwax), microsuction (micro suction), water irrigation, or other ear wax removal techniques? Please get in touch.