Earwax and what you can expect
Earwax, also known by the medical term as cerumen (Cer-uh-men), is an oily yellowish substance that, with time, becomes ear wax, this wax is there to lubricate and waterproof the ear canal to help guard it against things such as insects, injury, diseases etc. Earwax has natural antifungal and antibacterial bodies, it is also acidic and bitter to the taste.
The older the ear wax the harder it becomes, it can vary in consistency as well as colour – from soft and sticky to a hard and flaky wax substance. This can be due to a number of factors such as, the patient’s general health, diet, lifestyle, and a few other factors like their environment etc. Over time your ear canal sheds skin and through the movement of your jaw, skin naturally migrates outward in a spiral movement. The skin binds with the wax and should naturally make its way out of the ear canal. During this process you might experience some mild itchiness from time to time.
This natural migration process can unfortunately be compromised when foreign object are placed in the ear canal, for example, cotton tips, hearing protection, hearing aids, fingers etc. This disruption causes a build-up of earwax and if left untreated for too long can cause discomfort, pain and in some cases an infection to occur. Normally a healthy ear canal will present with a wax layer covering the ear canal, this layer of wax protects and lubricates the skin. Too little ear wax and you can succumb to a bacterial ear infection.
Fun fact: The outer third of the ear canal is approximately 1mm in thickness whereas the inner two thirds of the skin layer is as thin as 0.1mm in thickness, this means that having wax in the ear is a natural and healthy occurrence as it keeps the skin hydrated but too much wax can become problematic. For most people their ears clear themselves naturally but others might find it hard as factors like narrow or bendy canals can cause a blockage easier.
Ear wax impaction is usually determined by the percentage of occlusion (the percentage of blockage) the ear canal is showing. When experiencing a muffled sound (as if you are talking under water) it usually is the first sign of a fully impacted ear canal i.e. something is blocking the eardrum “medically referred to as the tympanic (tim-panic) membrane”. When the ear canal is cleared from the ear wax build-up you should feel an instant relief unless the middle ear has been affected which would leave you still feeling as though you have a blocked ear. Excessive usage of a cotton tip/q-tip or water in the ear can cause a fungal infection which causes discomfort or pain in and around the ear.
Our ear clinician will perform a thorough inspection of the eardrum and ear canal using an autoscope and/or endoscope, at which time the eardrum should show a clear light reflex upon inspection. During the procedure the impacted ear wax will be removed from the canals in a safe manner using Microsuction, the gold standard for New Zealand. Further ear health advice will also be given to help you maintain the health of your ear in the future.