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Keep your Ears Clean… By a Professional


Submitted by Midwest Hearing Center Audiologists

Like most things, people may not realize wax is building up in their ears until it becomes a problem. After a certain point, a health care professional is needed to clean it out, and unfortunately, there is no way for you to know what that point is.

Wax buildup in the ears can cause various symptoms. Besides the obvious feeling of the ears being plugged, a substantial amount of wax can actually cause temporary hearing loss. People with wax in their canals may also complain about itching or a damp feeling in their ears. They may report hearing popping, crackling, or static sounds as well. If these sounds occur when chewing, wax impaction is even more likely to be the cause. Beyond these minor annoyances, there are more serious complications that may result from a lack of ear hygiene. Wax impaction can cause infections of the ear canal, dizziness, and tinnitus, in addition to the above-mentioned hearing loss.

The good news is that a simple ear cleaning, by a professional, can significantly reduce if not eliminate all of these issues. However, you should not attempt to remove impacted wax on your own. Because of its shape, the external ear canal is difficult to see into. Even if you get some wax out, it is likely you did not remove it all. Therefore it is very important to have a health care professional look in your ear canals, with an otoscope, to assess the status of your ear.

Many people are accustomed to using cotton swabs, or Q-tips, to clean their ear canals. Using Q-tips to clean your ear canals can be hazardous for two main reasons. First, and the most obvious, you run the risk of puncturing your eardrum if you push the tip too deep. Second, and most common, you can push existing wax deeper in your canal. Only the outer third of your canal produces wax, and that is the only portion designed to migrate wax out of your ears. If wax get pushed to the inner two thirds it does not migrate out. Wax that sits in your canal gets hard, and can adhere to your ear canal. This makes removal much more difficult and sometimes painful. Wax left to sit in your ear canal also runs a risk of becoming infected.

Along with Q-tips, you should not use any foreign objects in attempts to clean your ears. In addition to the risks of using Q-tips, foreign objects can also scratch the delicate skin in the external canal. Not only will this hurt, it also significantly increases the risk of an infection. Sores also scab when healing, and itch more.

If you do not have impacted wax there are some over-the-counter methods you can use to keep your ear canals clean. Letting water run in your canal during a shower can help keep your ear canal clear. Mixing up half hydrogen-peroxide, half water, and letting it sit in your ear canal for a few minutes can also help keep it clean. Again, these methods only work to keep a clean ear canal clean and should not be used to try to clear out impacted wax.

If you have ever had surgery on your ears, suspect you have a perforation (hole) in your ear drum, or have pressure equalization tubes in your ears, you should never attempt to put anything into your canal without consulting an ear, nose, and throat physician. Anything solid can cause further damage to the ear canal or eardrum, and anything liquid can get into your middle ear causing pain and likely infections.

The serious complications of wax impaction and attempts to clean it out on your own can be easily averted by seeking a health care professional to have it removed. For further information or to schedule an appointment to have your ears examined, please call our Morton office at 309-284-0164 or our Peoria office at 309-691-6616.

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