Wax – What’s An Ear To Do?

Wax – What’s An Ear To Do?
Krista Llewellyn
Pharm.D. Candidate
Palm Beach Atlantic University

Ear wax – the name alone causes most to squirm.  In reality though, ear wax (or cerumen) plays a very important role in ear health.  For example, this waxy yellow substance functions to cleanse, lubricate, and even protect the ear from dust, foreign material, and bacteria.  Ear wax build-up, on the other hand, can lead to difficulty hearing, a feeling that the ear is plugged, pain, and cough.  In fact, “even a small amount of wax, if wedged between the ear drum and the ear canal wall, reduces the ability of the ear drum to conduct sound.”
Individuals with overactive ceruminous glands, narrow ear canals, excessive hair growth, or who wear hearing aids or earplugs often have increased incidence of impacted ear wax.

Ear Care
“Improper or excessive attempts to remove cerumen can actually damage the external auditory canal.”
For example, cotton swabs, toothpicks, bobby-pins, fingernails, and even hearing devices placed in the ear canal can force cerumen deeper into the ear canal where it can harden, compact, and become more difficult to remove.  What’s more, using one of these sharp objects to attempt to remove ear wax can scratch the delicate surface of the inner ear, which could “provide an entry point for water and pathogens.”
Thus, cotton swabs should only be used to clean the external ear.

Ear wax naturally “migrates out of the canal all by itself,” often by jaw movements, and does not need your help.
As such, the mainstay “method of removing cerumen is to use a wet, wrung-out washcloth draped over a finger” to swab the ear daily.
Over the counter products that may also help soften and remove ear wax include: carbamide peroxide 6.5% (Murine Ear®) (Debrox®), mineral oil, olive oil (sweet oil), glycerin, docusate sodium, and dilute hydrogen peroxide.

Recommended Ear Wax Extraction

To get started, you will need a softening solution (ie carbamide peroxide), a bulb, and a cup or basin.
1) First, wash your hands and the outside of the ear.
2) Tilt your head to one side or lie down with the affected ear facing upward.
3) Pull the ear up and back and place 5-10 drops of the cerumen-softening solution (ie carbamide peroxide) into the ear canal and allow it to stay in the ear for about 15 minutes.
4) After at least 15 minutes, pull the earlobe down and back and tilt the head over a basin.  Use a warm water solution (~8oz) to clean the ear canal out.
5) To do this, place the open end of the bulb syringe slightly into the ear canal with the tip pointed upward and to the side, so that it does not block the outflow of the water solution, but allows it to flow freely into and out of the ear.
6) Press the bulb gently to wash out the ear canal.
7) Avoid contact of the solution with the eyes.
8) Next, the ear should be dried completely.  A few drops of alcohol (Swim-EAR®) in the ear or a hair dryer set on low may be used to help the drying process.
9) This procedure can be repeated 2 times per day for 4 consecutive days.  Do not continue for more than 4 days.
10) If attempts to remove the wax plug are unsuccessful, please consult a health care provider as soon as possible.1
Exclusions for Treating Ear Wax Yourself2
Remember: if any of these apply to you, please do not treat the ear yourself; see a physician first.
– Sign of infection
– Pain with ear discharge
– Bleeding or signs of discharge
– Ruptured tympanic membrane


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