Cerumen – commonly referred to as ear wax – is a natural secretion by the human body. Although it is commonly believed that cerumen buildup is an indication of poor cleanliness and poor hygiene, cerumen is actually very beneficial and serves an extremely important purpose.
Cerumen collects dust, dead cells, and debris – such as hairspray and allergens – and prevents the substances from dangerously traveling deeper into the ear. Cerumen also moisturizes the ear canal and prevents germs and harmful bacteria from attacking the ear. Because cerumen is so critical to the health of your ears, you should always avoid excessive and aggressive use of “entrenching tools,” such as cotton swabs or tooth picks. Instead, follow these guidelines to ensure the health of your ears.
Understandably, some individuals worry about the cosmetic aspect of outer ear cerumen buildup. Some people may desire to remove the cerumen with swaps, but a simple wash with warm water and soap would remove the visible cerumen and keep the cerumen inside the ears safe.
Serious cases of cerumen build up should receive special attention. If you experience and of the following symptoms, you should seek attention from a hearing care professional, such as an audiologist.
- Hearing loss
- Sensation of stuffiness or fullness in ear canal
- Ear ringing (tinnitus)
- Persistent itching
- Discharge (reappearing oozing substances)
If you notice any of the problems above, it is of the highest professional recommendation to NOT attempt any form of self-treatment. Doing so may cause damage to your ears and hearing.
To prevent these serious cases and to ensure the health of your ears, it is critical you see a hearing care professional every 6-12 months; they can use safe methods to remove and/or reduce cerumen buildup as well as monitor your hearing condition. Some hearing care professionals can even provide home-use products that help dissolve cerumen.