WHAT IS IT?
VOL: 100, ISSUE: 29, PAGE NO: 30
WHAT IS IT?
- The skin cells lining the outer ear canals include tiny glands, similar to sweat glands, which produce the wax (cerumen).
- The wax slowly works its way to the outside, taking trapped dirt and dust with it.
- Most people’s ears clear the wax as fast as it is produced but if it builds up it can cause problems.
- Impacted wax in the ears is a common cause of deafness, discomfort, and sometimes noises in the ears.
- Earwax can be a potential source of transmission of hepatitis B (Kalcioglu et al, 2004).
- Impacted earwax is common.
- It is one of the most common causes of hearing loss.
- Just under one-third of older people experience the problem.
- In the UK thousands of people every week have earwax removed. The chances of wax accumulating are increased by use of hearing aids and cotton buds.
- Wax may be produced in increased quantities that the ear is unable to clear. Persistent exposure to loud noise can induce this response as can a viral infection.
- Ear canals can be narrow or lie at an angle. This can slow the natural passage of the wax leading to a build-up.
- Increased difficulty in hearing.
- Pain in either or both ears.
- Hearing a noise or a ringing.
- An awareness of something blocking up the ear’s canal or a feeling of fullness.
- Temporary deafness or pain in the ear(s) after swimming or having a bath or shower (because water causes the plug of wax to swell).
EFFECTS OF IMPACTED WAX
- Hearing loss.
- Itchiness in the ear.
- Reflex cough.
- Dizziness or vertigo.
- Some people are asymptomatic.
Earwax can be removed in a number of different ways:
- Wax softeners such as olive oil or over-the-counter proprietary brands are often effective;
- Irrigation or syringing using an electric jet irrigator is the most common procedure;
- Mechanical methods such as suction, using probes, or forceps with direct vision.
CONTRAINDICATIONS TO SYRINGING
- Past or present perforation of the ear drum.
- Ear infection.
- Presence of a grommet.
- History of ear surgery.
- Patients who are unable to cooperate such as young children or those who are confused.
COMPLICATIONS OF SYRINGING
Adverse effects are common and can include:
- Perforation of the ear drum;
- Damage to the external canal;
Aung, T., Mulley, G.P. (2002)10-minute consultation: removal of ear wax. British Medical Journal; 325: 27.
For information on earwax removal for parents of young children:
NHS Direct’s health encyclopaedia: www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/resourceindex