If your ear is blocked with wax, you will have a good understanding of the frustrations this can cause. From hearing loss through to just feeling off-balance, blocked ears can be annoying and irritating. So what products work to clear a blocked ear and what don’t?
- Wax can cause the ears to block for a number of reasons
- Some wax removal methods can be ineffective and even dangerous
- Softening drops dissolve wax and are the only ‘at home’ recommended remedy
- For larger amounts of wax, undertaking the Earworx microsuction procedure after the use of softening drops ensures ALL the wax has been removed, as opposed to simply creating a temporary ‘gap’ in the wax
What Causes Blocked Ears?
Despite the misconceptions that earwax is gross or dirty and every bit of it should be removed, it is actually an essential part of keeping your ears clean and healthy – you should leave it alone, because it is good for you! It is a mixture of secretions from oil and sweat glands, dead skin cells and hair, and provides protection for your ears via its sticky texture (good for trapping dirt, debris or insects prior to them entering your ear) and also helps to prevent infection.
For most, earwax should be left alone, as the ear has a clever ‘self-cleaning’ mechanism for removing excess wax via a ‘conveyor belt’ motion of the skin lining the ear canal. This conveyor belt motion, combined with the action of chewing and talking, assists wax to be carried out and fall out of your ears, often without you even noticing.
So that’s the good news, and for most of us (19 out of 20 adults) this self cleaning system works really well. But sometimes, our ears can’t clean themselves properly. There are usually three reasons for this.
1) Putting things into our ears
Ears can become blocked when we put things ‘smaller than our elbows’ (cotton buds, hearing aids, ear plugs, plastic ‘windy’ wax removers) into our ears. Doing this prevents the self-cleaning mechanism from working properly and can push wax further down the canal, worsening your symptoms.
2) Our ear anatomy
Ears can become blocked if we have inherited narrow, curvy, bendy or hairy ear canals. This makes it harder for the self-cleaning mechanism to work properly and the wax can build up over time.
3) The amount of wax
Ears can even become blocked simply because we produce more wax than other people (thanks mum or dad!). Stressful lifestyles can make us produce more wax, and working in dusty and dirty environments can change the consistency of the wax making it harder for the self-cleaning mechanism to work properly. Even getting older can contribute as wax becomes drier and therefore more likely to become impacted.
So there are many different reasons why you might have a wax build-up and without intervention, the wax can continue to build-up to the point where your ear canal is completely blocked. A blocked ear usually feels full, your hearing is usually affected (either muffled or reduced hearing) and you can also experience itchiness, dizziness, blockage, tinnitus, and even pain – and this may be where you are at. So what can you do?
What can you do?
Most at-home wax removal products are ineffective and some can even damage your delicate ears. Ear wax softening drops are one of the few at-home methods that can at least partially remove built-up ear wax by loosening it and dissolving it. However, wax softening drops should never be used by anyone who has a perforated ear drum or a current ear infection. If you’re unsure as to whether wax softening drops are suitable for you, you should first consult with your doctor.
What are wax softening drops?
Wax softening drops can be found at most local chemists and generally come in three varieties: water based, oil based, or non-water and non-oil based. They are also available in a spray format. For smaller amounts of wax (e.g. used as a preventative), they can work quite well to dissolve and soften the wax, allowing it to be carried out of the ear via the conveyor belt motion we discussed earlier. But for large amounts of wax, while the drops can help to provide temporary relief by creating a ‘gap’ in the impacted wax, usually the wax is not removed in its entirety and wax begins to build again. That’s why wax softening drops are most effective when used in conjunction with other wax removal techniques, such as micro-suction and curettage.
Peroxide 3% also dissolves wax, but does not soften it. Again, this works more effectively as a preventative or for small amounts of wax.
What is micro suction?
Micro-suction is a gentle, effective and safe method of wax removal, and is the technique used by the registered nurses at Earworx. Micro-suction is a completely dry technique, making it suitable even for people who are unable to use wax softening drops. Although we recommend using wax softening drops prior to your Earworx appointment to ensure the wax removal is comfortable and quick, this is not essential.
Micro-suction involves a tiny hollow catheter (tiny vacuum), which is attached to suction tubing, being gently inserted into the ear canal through a speculum (tiny funnel). The tubing is attached to a machine which uses gentle suction to remove the wax from your ear, much like a mini vacuum. Throughout the whole process, a nurse equipped with ‘loupes’ – special magnifying glasses fitted with a bright light – carefully observes your ear canal and ear drum so it is completely safe and gentle.
For the most part, your micro-suction appointment will last about half an hour but using wax softening drops in conjunction with micro-suction can help speed up the process.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact the friendly team at Earworx or book your appointment online.