Earwax - the waxy stuff inside our ears - is our ears’ protective coating. It keeps the skin inside our ears lubricated and free from dirt (plus it contains antibacterial properties). Without earwax our ears would become water-logged, dry, sore and infected.
But like anything you can sometimes have too much of a good thing. If too much earwax is produced it can lead to a blocked or painful ear and hearing loss.
- Plugs of earwax form in the ear canal.
- You may get ringing in the ear (tinnitus).
- The ear starts to feel full.
- Balance may get affected and you feel dizzy (mild vertigo).
- Hearing becomes dulled.
- Your ear may become painful and/or itchy.
What causes ear wax to cause problems?
The anatomy of your ear may put you at risk particularly if you have: narrow ear canals, lots of hair in your air canals or bony non-cancerous growths in the outer part of your ear canal. Skin conditions which affect the ears, repeated ear infections or a history of hard, impacted (firmly lodged) wax in your ears will also put you at greater risk of a build-up. Age is often a factor as earwax becomes drier as we get older.
Wearing a hearing aid and earplugs can cause problems as these stop earwax falling out of the ear, while cotton-buds can cause wax to get pushed too deeply into the ear to become impacted.
How to treat ear wax:
You can soften the wax by adding a few drops of medicinal grade olive oil to the ear canal twice a day for a few days. Make sure the oil is ‘medicinal’ and not ‘food oil’. Ear drops bought from the pharmacy will also do the same job. Drops are available without prescription. Ones containing ‘arachis oil’ help soften the wax, while drops containing urea-hydrogen peroxide will help break up the wax. Drops containing choline salicylate may be recommended to relieve earache, and painkillers such as paracetamol can also be used.
Visit your doctor if hearing loss goes on beyond a week, despite using drops, or if the pain is persistent. The doctor may arrange for the wax to be syringed with warm water (this is painless and only takes a few minutes). Antibiotics may be prescribed if the ear is infected.