Earwax Impaction

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How does earwax form? – Earwax is a product of the glands lining the ear and functions to protect the ear by trapping dust and other small particles, thereby preventing them from reaching and damaging the ear drum. The wax subsequently dries up and falls off with the trapped materials. 

What is earwax impaction?

Earwax impaction occurs when earwax builds up in the ear canal to block the eardrum. 

Why does ear wax build up?

The shape of the ear canal may contribute to trapping earwax, which is supposed to fall off after drying up. Small or narrow ear canal may make it difficult for the wax made by the ear to get out of the canal, thus resulting in impaction. Sometimes, the wax gets pushed down deep into the ear canal while an individual is attempting to clean the ear, using cotton-tipped swab. The blockage of the eardrum results in limited transmission of sound to it, leading to hearing impairment for the individual.

What are the symptoms of earwax impaction?

These include: reduced hearing, ear pain (usually minimal; if severe pain develops, ear infection should be suspected), ringing in the ear, dizziness and fullness sensation in the ear. 

Treatment for impacted earwax

Anyone having the symptoms listed will do well to visit a doctor so that it can be ascertained that impacted wax is the problem as other conditions, such as infection of the middle ear, may present in a similar way. If this is the case, adopting the same treatment may pose more challenges.

The following approaches may be adopted in treating earwax:

  1. Direct removal using curette or suction 
  2. Ear irrigation with warm water or sodium bicarbonate
  3. Softening the wax with some ear drops, glycerine or baby oil may be enough for the wax to come out or the softening can make it easier to flush out

What are the possible complications of the treatment?

The following complications may occur if earwax is not carefully removed – perforation of the eardrum; infection of the external and middle ear and/or complete hearing loss. Care must therefore be taken while treating earwax impaction.

Prevention of earwax impaction

As cleaning the ear with cotton-tipped swabs is a common cause of earwax impaction, avoiding its use or any other object that pushes the wax deeper into the ear canal can help in its prevention. However, other factors resulting in wax impaction like narrow ear canal cannot be prevented.    

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