Earwax. When you hear the word, what does it bring to mind?
Sticky, kind of weird… and well, probably not something that often crosses your mind. Unless you are one of the 35 million Americans who suffer from impacted earwax, which is the leading cause of conductive hearing loss.
Though it’s called wax, the substance is not a type of wax at all; the name simply comes from the texture. Scientifically known as cerumen, earwax is a substance that the body produces to protect the ears.
Earwax is produced in the outer part of the ear canal and is made of skin cells and secretions from two glands. The ear canal consists of skin that is constantly renewing itself and as dead skin cells shed, they are mixed in with substances from the ceruminous (a sweat gland) and sebaceous glands which secrete oil.
Earwax serves important functions for the ears: a natural moisturizer that prevents the skin inside the ears from becoming dry and itchy; a sticky trap that catches dirt and dust (and even tiny insects!) before it can travel deep into your ear canals; and a way for your body to collect dead skin cells. By doing this, earwax helps prevent bacteria and other infectious organisms from accumulating and reaching the inner ear. The natural antibacterial properties of earwax prevent bacterial infections and safeguard the ears, which are important for its ecosystem.
Earwax typically migrates from deeper in the ear canal to outside, eventually and naturally making its way out of the ears. Jaw movement from chewing and talking helps earwax reach the ear opening where it usually dries up and flakes off. However, many people produce more earwax than can be processed, earwax that is drier or harder than usual, or earwax that cannot exit the ears naturally. This can lead to impacted earwax which can result in various health issues and problems.
Ear Cleaning Makes an Impact
An accumulation of earwax in the ear canal is referred to as impacted earwax. Several factors can contribute to impacted earwax including producing too much earwax, aging, which can also cause earwax to become harder and therefore less mobile, as well as health conditions including:
- Bone growths or blockages
- Infections like swimmer’s ear
- Autoimmune conditions
- Skin conditions like eczema
- A narrowed ear canal can result from chronic inflammation or injury
Some of these conditions create blockages that prevent earwax from migrating and exiting the ears while others cause more earwax to be produced. An accumulation of earwax in the ears can produce a number of symptoms, including the following:
- Hearing loss
- Tinnitus: a buzzing or ringing noise in the ears
- Feeling of fullness or pressure in the ears
- Coughing, itching, irritation
- Pain in the ear
- Discharge or odor
We often take ear hygiene for granted. The ears play a critical role in the auditory system which is the sensory system for hearing. The ears absorb and process speech and sound which gets carried to the brain. The brain is then able to further analyze these signals, assigning meaning to the sound we hear. Impacted earwax can disrupt this process by preventing sound from being fully absorbed and reaching the inner ear.
Serving as a physical blockage that obstructs sound, impacted earwax can create challenges with hearing as well as symptoms related to hearing loss including tinnitus - a buzzing or ringing-like noise in the ears. In addition to contributing to hearing loss, earwax accumulation produces uncomfortable symptoms that can be challenging to navigate. This highlights why it is important to clean the ears and maintain balanced ear hygiene.
If left untreated, these symptoms can become worse. In fact, impacted earwax is a leading cause of conductive hearing loss. When considering the severity of its consequences, we can understand why it is crucial for people to clean their ears. While it is understandable that people want to keep their ears clean, for the 35 million Americans affected by impacted earwax, this is especially important!
OtoSet® - Ear Care for the 21st Century
There are many different ways to clean your ears, and many are not safe to try at home. For those who commonly experience impacted earwax, a visit to their primary care physician, otolaryngologist, or audiologist is required to safely remove the impaction.
Shockingly, the most common procedure, performed in practices around the world, dates back to the 1800s! Known as ear syringing, it requires the rather unpleasant experience of your healthcare provider syringing a large amount of water at high pressure into your ear canal to properly dislodge the wax.
However, there may now be a new option the next time you or a loved one has to visit a healthcare provider for earwax removal - the OtoSet® Ear Cleaning System. OtoSet® is the first automated and FDA-cleared ear cleaning device for clinical use. At the push of a button, liquid flow and micro-suction technology combine to automatically break down and remove impacted earwax for a quick, safe, effective, and mess-free earwax removal procedure.
Looking for a revolutionary new way to clean your ears? Ask your healthcare provider to look into OtoSet® as an innovative new way to address this age-old problem.