tympanum

The truth about earwax

An October 16 video from the Wall Street Journal health blog (USA) is titled “Have Earwax? Leave it Alone.” Most people probably think of earwax as a nuisance; something bad that needs to be removed, but actually, having a certain amount of earwax is good for the health of our ears. Most people don’t need to worry about wax removal, as the ear canal functions in a way that the wax comes out on it’s own.

Earwax is helpful to our ear health as it provides a natural coating to the skin of the ear canal. It protects the skin from drying and cracking, which makes us susceptible to outer ear infections (otitis externa). Think of it as your body’s natural moisturizer for canal skin. The wax is a sticky coating to catch bacteria and fungi and even small bugs and keeps them from getting deep in the ear and causing problems.

People fall into one of two earwax categories: the wet type (more common) and the dry type. Your type is determined by your genes and ancestry. For either type, the wax is formed from the shedding top layer of your eardrum, and over several weeks the wax builds up as these skin cells combine with secretions of the glands in the canal. And in in a “corkscrew” type motion, the dead skin cells and wax migrates out of the canal and slowly and regularly drops out of the canal, hopefully, not even noticed by you (or anyone else!).

Here is perhaps the most shocking information about earwax: most people should do nothing to keep a “clean” ear canal, and using cotton swabs usually causes more harm than good! Yes, if you put the cotton swab inside the ear canal itself, you may well remove a little bit of the wax, but you are also blindly pushing more wax deeper down the canal. This activity counteracts the normal outward migration of wax, and makes you more prone to infections and impaction of the wax.

If you do want to do something to help clean out wax that you think has built up, the best things are to try some wax-softening drops at your pharmacy, and/or just gently irrigate out your ear canal in the shower a few times. Note that if you irrigate out your ear, the water should be about body temperature. Too hot, or too cold and you will get dizzy (an abnormal temperature stimulates the inner ear in a way that your brain interprets as dizziness).

If you believe your wax has accumulated and you have a loss of hearing, or pressure, pain or discharge, it’s best to see a doctor, preferably if you can, an otolaryngologist who has the training and equipment to remove the wax properly and safely. If you see a non-specialist, you should ask him if he has experience in wax removal, and you should not let under-trained medical personnel work on your ear! The ear canal is a narrow space to work, and is not uncommon that an untrained person can make the situation worse, even causing an eardrum perforation.

So the best advice for most people regarding their earwax is: do nothing! Let your body do its job naturally.

Should you want to find an ear doctor, or any other type of specialist, go to our main website: www.procuramed.com.

 

Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)

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