One of the most common causes of hearing loss is earwax, or cerumen, blocking sound from reaching the eardrum. This occurs when the wax is pushed back toward the eardrum or if the ears produce more wax than is needed.
Earwax is also the most common cause of hearing aid malfunctions. A tiny amount of wax can plug the receiver, or speaker, of a hearing aid, preventing sound from coming out. An equally small amount can plug the microphone covers, preventing sound from getting in.
As a hearing aid provider, I spend a lot of time removing wax both from hearing aids and ear canals. It is standard practice in our follow-up care.
So, why do we have earwax? It does have a purpose. It shields our ears from outside invaders and lubricates our ears, just as tears lubricate our eyes. It is also part of a self-cleaning mechanism. As we move our jaw, earwax slowly moves from the eardrum to the ear opening, where it will fall out.
Earwax is a combination of skin cells and secretions from the ceruminous glands in the outer ear canal. It comes in two types – wet and dry. People of Asian descent tend to have dry wax, while people from other regions tend to have wet.
We have all heard the old saying, “don’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear.” This is sound advice. Not only can you damage your ear canal or eardrum, but you will most likely push the earwax further in. If excess wax is a problem, it is best to seek professional help, or try one of the over-the-counter wax removal kits sold in the pharmacy section. The latter is only for someone with healthy eardrums, free of tubes or perforations.