Ear Wax

The Purpose of Ear Wax

Do you clean your ears?  It is inconceivable to think that cleaning your ears is actually not as hygienic as you think.  On the contrary, cleaning your ears can do more harm than good.

So, why do we have ear wax?  Before we get to the ‘why’, let’s first discuss ‘what’ ear wax is?  Scientifically known as cerumen… ear wax is produced in the ear canal by the ceruminous glands.  Ear wax is a mixture of dead skin cells, fatty acids and various other substances.  It contains an antibacterial enzyme called lysozyme which is capable of destroying bacteria that may enter the ear.

Now for the ‘why’?  Ear wax keeps your ear canal clean and healthy.  How?  It traps dust, dead skin cells and other small particles.  Jaw movement, like eating and talking assist with the movement of the ear wax to the outside and more visible side of the ear canal. The word, ‘self-cleaning’ should cross your mind, because that is exactly what is happening.

You must have heard that you should never insert anything smaller than your elbow into your ears.  So, why should you NOT use cotton buds?  By using cotton buds, you may be pushing the ear wax deeper into the ear canal which may lead to forming a wax block.  This can create a temporarily hearing loss of up to 35dB.  You may also accidentally rupture your eardrum by cleaning too deeply into the ear canal.

Some people never make use of cotton buds, but the wax still forms a block.  How is that possible?  The amount of wax production and the consistency may differ from person to person.  You’re ear canal may produce very little or quite a lot of wax and it may be very dry or quite wet.  Wax production may also be increased by exposing yourself to continuous excessive noise or music, because the ear produces more wax in an attempt to protect itself.

A person that produces excessive and dryer wax may struggle with wax blocks and may need professional wax removals two to four times a year.  (You may need to visit an Audiologist or a General Practitioner if you are unsure).  To keep the wax soft and more pliable, a special mixture of oils can be purchased from your nearest Audiologist.  You may also try your Pharmacy for one of the following: sweet oil, tissue oil or olive oil (not the supermarket one!).

So you really don’t like dirty ears, what are you allowed to do?  You may clean the visible part of the ear up to the entrance of the ear canal.  Remember, do not insert anything into the ear!  Ear wax is there to protect your ears.

For more on ear health, kindly visit the Paarl Hearing Centre.

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