Have a formidable build up of earwax in those ear holes? Listen up. (…well, you know).
Before you take your trusty Q-tips, or picking medium of choice, and do a little excavating, you should check with a professional, doctor’s advice.
“Patients may try to blindly instrument their ears with cotton ear buds, bobby pins, or other tools,” said Dr. Seth Schwartz, chair of a committee that created new guidelines towards diagnosing and treating earwax for the American Academy of Otolaryngology.
“These are generally ineffective and potentially dangerous,” Schwartz continued. “Scratching of the ear canal skin can lead to pain and infection. Sometimes they just push the wax in further, and there also is the potential for damage to the ear drum.”
The body manufactures earwax as a safeguard from dust, dirt, and debris from entering the ear and causing damage. When new skin in the ear canal grows, it pushes the old earwax out, which naturally flakes off or washes away when bathing.
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The guidelines published in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery stress that having some visible earwax is perfectly normal, though there’s no denying it has a stigma associated with uncleanliness.
Continuous cleaning can irritate the ear, causing infection, or even more wax to build up through cerumen impaction, say the guidelines.
Rather than taking matters into their own hands, experts urge people to see a doctor if they experience any hearing loss, pain, or fullness in the ears from a wax build up; it may be a normal amount of wax, and a different problem entirely.
“The mantra from previous generations of ‘don’t stick anything in your ear that is smaller than your elbow’ still applies,” said Dr. Duane Taylor, chief executive officer and medical director of Le Visage ENT, through email.
“Generally people still erroneously believe that the cotton-tipped applicator or Q-tip is the primary weapon of choice to get rid of earwax.”
Wax that manifests naturally around the ear can be removed with a damp cloth, rather than Q-tips; the weapon of choice can compact the wax, pushing it deeper into the ear. Even common ear additions like hearing aids or music earbuds can have a similar, adverse effect on earwax.
“In most cases, primary care clinicians are the first line of evaluation for this condition and are adequately equipped to manage it,” Taylor said. “When it is noted to be more complicated or there is a risk of injury there should be a referral to an Ear, Nose and Throat physician for removal.”