When it comes to ear hygiene, both the biggest hero and the biggest villain is ear wax. This sticky substance that healthy ears naturally produce is extremely helpful in trapping debris, repelling water, resisting infection and preventing insects and other undesirables from entering the ear canal. Ear wax is made up of oils and perspiration produced by glands in the ear canal, which become entwined with skin flakes and hair as it moves out of the ear canal. In a perfect world our ears are self-cleaning, and wax should slowly move towards the opening of the ear, where most of it either gets washed away or flakes off. However, sometimes this isn’t the case, and where ear wax becomes impacted or blocks the ear canal it can cause infection and hearing loss.

Wax is likely to become impacted if it is pushed deeper into the ear canal by any foreign body. Unfortunately, usually the most common culprit for impacting wax are the implements used to try and remove wax from the ear- cotton buds. Although commonly referred to as ‘ear buds’, cotton buds only serve to push wax deeper into the ear, increased the chance of impaction. They also stimulate the walls of the ear canal to produce more wax than the ear would normally create. And, of course, there is always the chance that a surprise bump causes the ear bud to damage the ear drum or middle and inner ear structures. Also, don’t be fooled by the promises of ear candles- in the long run the risk is too high to warrant the ‘convenience’ of removing wax yourself. Wax should only be removed by a trained professional- it is not a DIY job.

There are certain strategies that can be used to try and reduce the build-up of wax in the ear and encourage the natural migration of wax out of the ear canal. Certain ear drops or oils can be used at night to soften wax, but these should only be used when advised by a doctor, especially if you have a history of ear infections. It’s a good idea to wipe the outer part of the ear with a damp facecloth or towel to help the wax on its way out, but make sure not to go into the ear canal. Also make sure that anything that you are regularly inserting into your ear, be it a hearing aid or music earphones, are keep clean and regularly disinfected.

If you aren’t sure whether your ears need to be professionally cleaned, it’s best to have someone take a look. Most doctors and hearing healthcare professionals should be able to advise whether wax removal is neccesary, and recommend the safest removal method.

What have your experiences been with wax and it’s removal? Comment below with any questions.