The body has its own protective mechanisms, and one of these is the ear wax. The skin in the ear produces an oily, waxy substance known as cerumen. This is produced to help protect the ear from the dust and the microorganisms that it is constantly subjected to. What happens is this earwax is naturally removed from the ear as it gets washed away through the ear canal that opens to the outside. However, in some cases, where there is excessive production of wax, it can harden and cause a blockage. Read on to know more about how this ear wax builds up, how it may cause blockage, and how to get rid of it.
Buildup: As noted, the ear wax is a natural protective mechanism to keep dust and bacteria from entering the ear canal which is a very critical organ. The middle ear is responsible for maintaining overall body balance. However, in some people, more wax is produced than what gets removed. Also, due to the recurrent use of earphones and earbuds, the wax can get pushed deeper. The earphones also could block the wax from getting out of the ear canal.
Excessive ear wax can lead to the following:
It is important to know that trying to remove ear wax at home should be avoided, as they can push the wax internally and cause more severe problems. These above symptoms could be indicative of various other problems in the ear and so should be immediately attended to by a medical doctor. Those who use hearing aids may also face the problem of excessive wax buildup.
Removal: As mentioned above, removal should not be done at home. This is true especially for young children and the elderly.
As the next step, clinical removal may be required. Those who are prone to excessive wax buildup may go for an annual or biannual wax removal. This could include irrigation and use of suction or curette to remove the wax. Ear wax, though not very pleasant, has a role to play in the ear’s health and small amounts of it are beneficial.
Ear wax which is also known as cerumen is produced by the human body for the protection of the ears. Ear wax possesses both antibacterial and lubricating characteristics. Mostly, the existing ear wax is passed via the ear canal by motions such as chewing and various jaw movements. The skin from the canal widens from within. At this time, it extends from outside the ear and peels off. The ear wax is made by the outer lining of the ears.
Ear wax impaction refers to a situation where there is tremendous build-up within the canal of the ears. Such enormous build-up is indicative that something is seriously wrong. Ears are naturally designed in a way that they self-clean. Build-up of ear wax and obstruction often takes place when people make use of cotton swabs and/or bobby pins to clean out the ears. But using earbuds or cotton swabs are contrary to helpful; they push the ear wax further deep inside the ears, sometimes leading to an injury in the process.
When ear wax impaction is left untreated, it may lead to infections. Signs of the severity of the impaction include irritation of the ear and loss of hearing. If there is a significant accumulation of ear wax in the ear then it might make looking inside the ear troublesome, thereby, a number of issues can go undiagnosed. Of the main signs of ear wax impaction, the four most foreboding signs include:
Other symptoms of earwax impaction include drainage from the canal of the ear, pain in the ear and dizziness.
Upon experiencing the severe signs of earwax impaction or cerumen build-up, the supervising doctor can confirm that you may or may not have a blockage in the ear by looking inside the ear with an ear-scope.
Getting rid of the extra earwax is very easy. Use only cotton swabs to clean out the external region of the ears. In order to soften the consistency of the earwax you can buy certain over-the-counter drops or you can also use substances that are composed of baby oil, and glycerine.
Ear irrigation is another method which you can adopt in order to eliminate excess earwax. If the patient considering ear irrigation has suffered an injury in the ear or had a medical procedure such as a surgery performed on the ear then he or she should immediately opt out of the idea of ear irrigation. If ear irrigation is performed on an eardrum that has become ruptured then it could lead to infection or loss of hearing. Persons having a problem of impacted ear wax should get it cleaned by an ENT specialist every 6 months.
Hearing is an essential process in everyone's life. Be it your social life or professional activities, hearing influences every aspect of your life. You can thus, never ignore the health of your ears to enjoy a healthy life. But there are several hindrances to obstruct effective hearing. One of the problems is the accumulation of a natural substance called cerumen produced by the glands present in the ear canal. The accumulated cerumen is medically referred to as Earwax. Overproduction of cerumen is mainly triggered by the deficiency of Omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and magnesium.
The basic function of the wax is to protect the ear canal from invasion by foreign particles like bacteria and dust particles. This is necessary for the smooth functioning of the ear and its protection from invaders. However, it becomes an irritating problem when earwax is produced in excess. The problem aggravates when the ear canal is blocked due to the accumulation of earwax. In such cases, we use certain objects such as bobby pins, Q-tips or cotton swabs to clean the accumulated earwax from the ear canal. What we do not realise is that pricking the wax using these objects can sometimes cause significant damage to the ear. These objects push the wax deep inside the canal, leading to blockage.
The most common symptoms of excessive earwax are as follows:
Here are the preventive measures to remove ear wax blockage:
Dizziness is usually described as variety of sensations which comprise of a feeling of faintness, unsteady, weak, light headed, giddy or woozy. When dizziness causes a false feeling of spinning and the moving surroundings is known as vertigo.
Dizziness can be one of the most common reasons for a visit to the doctor. However, constant feeling of dizziness can affect a person's life drastically, but it is rarely life threatening. The treatment of dizzy sensation and dizziness mostly depends on the symptoms.
Causes of Dizziness
The common causes of dizziness are medication, motion sickness and ear problems, especially disturbances of the inner ear. An injury, infection or poor blood circulation can also lead to dizziness. The triggers of dizziness and the sensations it provides are used to evaluate the cause. Also, the duration of the dizziness and the symptoms lead to a clue towards the cause of the same.
Dizziness Caused By the Inner Ear Problems
The balance of the body depends on the combined effort of many parts of the sensory system. These are:
In vertigo a person might feel that the things around them are moving thus creating a swaying or a spinning motion. Vertigo is usually caused by the problems of the inner ear.
The common causes are:
Treatment of Vertigo Includes:
There is a strong connection between the ears, nose and throat, as any ENT or Ear Nose Throat specialist will be able to tell you. When there is any kind of congestion or obstruction in the nasal passages, one can also feel some effect in the ears with the symptoms going from mild to severe.
So how can nasal obstruction cause clogged ears? Here is our explanation!
- The Connection:
To begin with, let us understand the connection between the ears and the nose. There is an opening that can be found in the back of the nose, which leads into a tunnel called the Eustachian Tube. This tube goes into the ears and creates some amount of pressure when the nasal passages get blocked. This pressure can be felt as clogging of the ears and can usually be eradicated with the help of a pop in the ears. This pop can be brought about by pinching your nose and trying to breathe, or even yawning hard or indulging in some gulping or swallowing motion as well.
- Mucosal Swelling:
The swelling within the patient's nose usually points at the build up of mucus which can make the nasal lining thicker, thus making the act of breathing that much more laboured and difficult. This obstructs the nasal tract, in plain and simple terms. This swelling usually spreads to the tunnel or the Eustachian Tube, which can become swollen and even shut, consequently leading to a feeling of having clogged ears.
- Negative Nasal Pressure:
When the pressure inside the nose is built up in a negative way due to the obstruction that makes the patient breathe even harder, then the ears end up taking the pressure. This makes them clogged. This negative pressure usually manifests in the back of the nose where the Eustachian Tube is located, which creates a build up in the ears as well. This can also lead to a ringing pain when a patient tries to suck in air too hard due to the obstruction.
- Bernoulli's Principle:
If we are to incorporate air in place of fluid and liken the action of breathing with an obstructed nose, with the action of sucking fluid in through an obstructed straw, then the fluid dynamics would apply to this case. As per these fluid dynamics, more rapid flow of fluid can lead to decreased pressure on the surrounding areas. This can be applied to the blocked nose where air must pass through faster and with more fluidity so as to ensure that there is less pressure on the ears, which will keep them from getting clogged.
When you travel in an airplane or just come out of the swimming pool, your ears may sometimes block up and even be painful. This is what is known ear barotrauma and is caused by pressure differences inside and outside the ear drum. Severe cases may cause damage to the ear and impede your hearing.
Symptoms of ear barotrauma: Ear barotrauma usually occurs when the Eustachian tube is blocked due to differences in air pressure. The Eustachian tube is a long narrow tube that runs from the middle of your ear to the pharynx or the back of the throat and is thus very important in relevance to the ear, nose and throat. Thus ear barotrauma can also translate to pain in the ear and throat as well.
Some of the symptoms are:
Precautions and self treatment: There are certain steps you can take to either prevent barotrauma or reduce the symptoms, these are:
yawning or gulping. This is very helpful when air pressure differences are caused in cases of travelling by aircraft.
Usually, ear barotrauma goes away automatically after sometime and no medications are required. However, if symptoms still persist, it is best to go to a relevant doctor or a health care provider for pain relief and long term solutions.
Ear discharge is a common problem. The medical term that refers to this condition is otorrhea. The reason behind ear discharge could be multiple. The discomfort is caused due to a number of factors, including bacterial infection, head injuries and excessive ear wax. There are various kinds of drainage, like blood, milky white fluid or wax. It can be noted that the drainage of earwax yellow to orange or brown in colour is not a health issue. Other types of ear drainage need treatment or medical attention, depending on the severity of the situation.
Drainage due to ruptured eardrum: In some cases, it is found that there is drainage due to rupturing of the eardrum. It can be remembered that the rupturing of the eardrum is not a medical emergency. The drainage, in this case, is clear. It may be mixed with blood or fully bloody. Symptoms in this case range from ear-ringing, intense ear pain, hearing loss to drainage. Eardrum can get ruptured due to the following reasons:
You will have to remember that this is not an emergency case. The rupture gets repaired or healed naturally. However, if the problem worsens it is best to see a doctor. For healing the rupture, doctors may undertake a tympanoplasty. The doctor might also ask you to try a solution of 1% topical sodium hyaluronate.
Ear drainage due to excessive ear wax: This is a normal condition. It doesn’t usually require medical intervention. However, if the blockage of wax is not removed by natural means or simple cleaning using cotton swabs, oil or hydrogen peroxide, take help from a doctor.
Ear drainage due to infection: If you have been infected by a foreign invader like bacteria, you are likely to notice milky white fluid oozing out of your ear. The infection can be accompanied by fever and pain in the ear. The odour of the discharge is offensive.
Ear drainage due to head injuries: This is dangerous of all other drainage condition. It needs immediate medical intervention. The drainage is definitely bloody in nature. A Large amount of the drainage may contain the cerebral spinal fluid.
Reasons to seek immediate help from your doctor
Swimmer’s ear is a condition, which is characterized by an infection in the outer ear. This infection usually stems from the water that remains in the ear after swimming, forming a moist environment that allows bacteria to grow and procreate. This condition can also develop if you happen to insert your finger or other foreign objects into the ears.
The symptoms of this disorder are usually mild in the beginning, but may worsen if left untreated. In its germinating stage, this condition exhibits symptoms such as itching in the ears and a watery discharge. If the disorder has progressed to an advanced stage, then the symptoms become slightly different. An intense pain on the particular side of the face, swelling in the ear and blockage of the ear canal are some of the common symptoms. In extreme cases, swelling of the lymph nodes and moderate to high fever can be indicative of this condition.
The causes of swimmer’s ear are bacteria that are found in soil and water. Your ears have a natural defense system against infections; glands in the ear secrete an acidic substance called ‘cerumen’ that kills the bacteria. The ear canal has a downward slope from the middle ear to the outer ear, thus allowing the water to drain out. Swimmer’s ear occurs when these defenses fail to work. This happens when there is excessive moisture in the ear canal, creating an environment for the bacteria to grow. In addition, certain factors such as swimming in dirty water, a narrow ear canal and excessive cleaning of the ear canal can lead to this condition.
The aim of the treatment is to prevent the infection from progressing and allow the ear to heal. The first step is to clean the ear canal so that the eardrops can reach the affected area. Once the ear is cleaned, eardrops are administered to get rid of the bacteria. The various medications that are used in the treatment of swimmer’s ear are:
1. Antibiotics: They are used to combat the bacteria that cause the infection.
2. Acidic solutions: It is used to restore the normal environment in the ear.
3. Steroids: These help in reducing the inflammation.
You may also be prescribed pain medications to treat the pain resulting from this condition. Try to avoid swimming till the condition heals completely. Make sure you aren’t inserting any foreign object in the ears as that may aggravate the situation further.
Cotton swabs or cotton buds, are commonly used in our daily lifestyle. Many people use it for various purposes, such as make-up, bacterial culture, and most commonly for extracting wax and debris from the ear. Even though they are sometimes handy in our busy schedule, they usually cause much more harm than benefits.
How are they misused?
Cotton buds are toothpick like pieces made of wood, plastic or rolled paper, which have cotton stuck at both ends with a roundish edge. It came into existence during the 1920s for a safe purpose of ear cleaning by Leo Gerstenzang, when he saw his wife cleaning their baby’s ear with a toothpick. They are until now used by the general population for ear cleaning, but these hardly remove the outer debris which are stuck near the outer edges. Impressing it inside the ear canal only does further damage, by forcing the inner wax further inside. Sometimes extensive force also causes damage to the ear drums.
How does it cause the damage?
Applying a tool like the cotton bud inside the ear with hands usually creates a force that impresses upon the eardrum, also accumulating the surrounding earwax to that area, resulting in impaction of the wax. The force applied most often, if not always, causes a damage to the ear drums, which might cause severe pain, also leading to leakage, improper balance, deafness and certain similar abnormalities.
Alternative measures -
Although we are worried about cleaning our ears, it doesn’t really require our notice, since our usual showers allow an adequate quantity of water to enter the ears and clean the accumulated debris automatically. The structure, in which our ear canal is designed, is usually naturally assisting in cleaning up the unusual wax around the ear.
If there is an uncontrollable build up of earwax that is not cleaned off normally, you can always consult an ENT or any general physician and get it cleaned under medical surveillance, which is best advised.
Doctors and medical practitioners all around the world have been trying to spread the message of preventing the use of cotton buds for ear cleaning. It is important that the message reaches greater part of the population. Spread it to your family, your closest friends, their friends, and as further, you can reach!