Earwax is a healthy and normal substance. It is there to protect and lubricate the ear canal and helps to trap dust and dirt, preventing it from moving further down the ear. Whilst normal healthy ears do clean themselves, on occasion wax can build up within the ear canal leading to symptoms such as hearing loss. When this occurs with our children, what do we do? Approximately 1 in 10 children do suffer from wax impaction, and it is important to address this early should it occur.
To clean the outside of your childs ear, use a facewasher or soft cloth. Cotton buds can be used to clean the outside of the ear, but do not use them within the ear canal as you can push wax further down, worsening symptoms.
If your child complains of a blocked ear following swimming or showering, it may just be water trapped in the ear. Have your child tilt their head to drain the water out, wipe away what you can, and then try a hairdryer on low heat to dry the ears. If the feeling of blockage does not resolve, your child may have wax build up within the ear itself. A quick check with your local health professional or Earworx nurse is recommended.
Impacted Ear Wax
For impacted wax built up within your childs ears, earwax softening drops purchased from the chemist, or olive or mineral oil, are a good first step. The ear is designed to ‘self clean’; the skin lining the ear canal and drum carries the wax out of the ear in a conveyor belt motion. When the wax is soft, this mechanism can work more effectively.
The critical point to remember is that ear wax is healthy. A coating of ear wax sitting at the entrance to the ear is not a cause for alarm. This is normal but any excess can simply be wiped away as outlined above. Some wax is vital in protecting the sensitive internal mechanisms that allow your child to hear and to help prevent infection.
The only time you may need to intervene in your child’s ears is if you suspect they are suffering from impacted ear wax.
What Are The Symptoms of Impacted Ear Wax?
Should your child complain of any of these symptoms of impacted ear wax you may need to have their ears examined:
- An odour or discharge coming from the ear
- An itchy ear
- A cough
- Hearing loss
- A feeling of blockage
- Complaints of a full or ringing (tinnitus) ear
If your child can talk, it’s likely they’ll be able to communicate these symptoms with you. If they are too young, watch for common signs of ear pain like pulling or tugging on the ears, constantly scratching at their ears or not responding when you are talking to them. You can also monitor for discharge and odour, as well as a large amount of wax noted at the entrance to the ear canal.
How Can I Remove Impacted Ear Wax?
A lot of home remedies you’ve heard of can be unsafe and ineffective. The old rule ‘nothing smaller than your elbow’ in the ear is very true. Using ear wax candles or cotton buds to try and remove wax may only push the impacted wax further into the ear and worsen symptoms. A cotton bud pushed too deep into the canal could also cause trauma to the delicate skin lining and eardrum.
- Wipe the outside of your childs ear with a facewasher or soft cloth
- Use cotton buds only in the OUTER part of the ear – never in the ear canal itself
- Try softening drops from the local chemist should you suspect wax impaction
- Have a health professional check your childs ears if symptoms persist
Micro-Suction: The Safe Approach For Your Child
For wax that is impacted within the ear and cannot be removed using the above methods, your child may require the wax to be manually removed. The best person to visit for impacted ear wax in a child is a professional that specialises in treating the issue. If you notice any bleeding, severe pain or a sudden loss of hearing in your child however, go straight to your family GP or emergency department, as these symptoms are less likely to be related to impacted wax and can be a sign of other problems.
Our Earworx registered nurses will examine your child’s ears to check for earwax blockages. The procedure will only performed if clinically indicated – wax that is not preventing a needed examination of the ear or causing symptoms is best left alone.
During the appointment we will:
- Place a speculum within the ear to enable examination. The nurse wears loupes; magnified glasses fitted with a bright light which allow for an in-depth inspection of the ear canals.
- If removal is required, the nurse will use small instruments including forceps, curettes and gentle micro-suction to dislodge and remove the built-up wax. Your child will usually feel relief instantaneously and a cleared ear also allows the GP a view down the ear canal and to the drum for further assessment should any symptoms remain unresolved following removal.
How to Avoid Impacted Ear Wax
Familiarising yourself with the symptoms of impacted ear wax and teaching your child how to recognise them is a great first step. In addition, explain to them that most of the time the ears clean themselves, and that they should never stick anything inside their ear canals as this may cause injury.
For children that do have a repeated issue with wax build up and impaction, using softening drops in the ears once a month or so may assist the self-cleaning mechanism. Booking a yearly wax removal appointment is another great way to ensure your child’s ears stay healthy and symptom free.
You may also wish to take a look at one of our other recent posts: What To Do If Your Ears Feel Blocked.