For most of us, ear wax is nothing more but a dirty yellowish sticky substance that we try to get rid of as soon as possible to maintain cleanliness and personal hygiene. However, this yellowish waxy substance is produced by the wax gland to serve an important purpose. The exact medical term for ear wax is cerumen. There are mainly two types of ear wax, dry cerumen and wet cerumen. Dry cerumen is usually gray and flaky, while the wet type is moist and yellowish or dark brown in color. The dry type of cerumen is usually found in East Asians and the Native American population, while Caucasians and Africans are more likely to have the wet type of ear wax.
Functions of Ear Wax
Ear wax is produced by the wax glands, known as ceruminous glands, of the ear canal in many mammals including humans. These glands produce a watery substance that acts as a lubricating agent. Ear wax is also known to have antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. The main function of ear wax is to protect the inner parts of the ear from dust, dirt, insects and harmful microorganisms like bacteria and fungi. This sticky substance traps these particles and thereby prevents them from entering deeper into the ear canal and ear drum. As a lubricating agent, it protects the inner skin of the ear canal from infection and irritation. Now, let's have a look at what causes ear wax or how does ear wax build up inside our ear.
What Causes Ear Wax?
Ear wax engulfs all the foreign particles and comes out through the ear canal. The tiny hairs that line the ear canal, facilitate its movement. However, in many instances, ear wax fails to come out of the ear canal on its own and leads to an ear wax buildup, also called impacted ear wax. Though it can happen to individuals belonging to any age group, it is more commonly found in older individuals. There can be several reasons behind the build up of excess ear wax inside the ear canal. Sometimes, it can be caused by the habit of using a cotton swab, hair grip or fingers for cleaning the ear. Putting such things into the ear can push the ear wax deeper into the ear canal and cause impaction.
One can also experience impacted ear wax, when the ear fails to perform its regular functions. Excessive hair in the ear canal can be another possible cause of ear wax impaction. Sometimes, if an excessive amount of dust and dirt enter our ear, they can cause ear wax to build up. Abnormalities in the structure of the ear canal, such as a narrow canal or a canal which is at such an angle that the ear wax cannot come out naturally, can also lead to the accumulation of excess wax inside the ear canal. It has been observed that people who use hearing aids and ear plugs are more likely to experience buildup of ear wax.
How to Treat and Remove unwanted Ear Wax:
Ear Wax Is Normal
Ear wax is normal and healthy. Everyone makes ear wax, although some people make more than others. Sweat glands inside the outer ear canal produce it. The wax oils ear canal tissues and protects the ear drum.
Too Much Ear Wax?
The healthy ear cleans itself. Tiny hairs lining the ear canal remove the wax slowly. When you clean your ear, you remove wax that moved far from its start. Do not put a finger, swab, etc. in to the ear canal. This can hurt and push the wax in deeper.
Deep Ear Wax Hurts
Deep wax can cause pain, fullness, noise in the ear or hearing loss. See a doctor, nurse or audiologist to determine if the ear wax is deep. If the wax is very deep, a special microscope can [be used to] remove it.
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Ear Wax Sometimes Impacted
Even though you may not stick anything in your ear, you can still experience impacted wax. This is because the ear does not work as well as you age, and health problems or hearing aids might make it harder for your ear to remove ear wax. For example, if you are 70 and use hearing aids, you might need wax removed every year or two.
Safe Ear Wax Removal
Some doctors use pressurized water to remove deep wax. If the doctor is experienced, it might be okay to use the pressurized water. It is better to use a wire loop under a strong headlamp to remove the wax gently. Or, vacuum the ear with light suction. Either way, the doctor should always view the cleaning area with a strong light. Of course, it is best to discuss different ways with your doctor.
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