Earwax is seldom understood, but a common cause for temporary hearing loss. Although it’s easy to think of earwax as a disgusting bi-product of the body, it’s an amazing self-cleaning agent. However, not caring for your ears properly can cause the earwax to build up, creating temporary hearing loss, tinnitus, earaches and other issues.
Earwax, called cerumen by the medical profession, is an antibacterial and lubricating protector of the sensitive ear canal. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s supposed to be there. By chewing, swallowing and other actions of the jaw, the old earwax migrates through the canal to the outer opening of your ear. It then dries and falls away.
When Earwax Builds, Hearing Loss Can Follow
This is the natural order of things. However, a number of patients suffering from hearing loss have earwax build up because of pushing things into their ear, such as bobby pins and cotton-tipped applicators. This pushes the earwax against the flow, back into the ear canal, where it builds and – eventually – blocks the canal.
While cotton-tipped applicators do serve a purpose, that purpose is not to clear earwax from the inside of the ear. These applicators are supposed to be used for the outside of the ear, and were made because people simply didn’t want to wait for the natural process of drying and falling away. They should never be used past the opening of the ear.
Although a buildup of earwax doesn’t always cause hearing loss, it can. It may be partial hearing loss, but can grow into a full deafness . Patients have gone to their doctor thinking they were going deaf, only to find that earwax had completely blocked the eardrum from receiving the vibrations necessary for hearing.
The symptoms of impacted earwax vary depending on the amount of build up. They include:
- A feeling of fullness or stuffiness in the ear
- Rushing or ringing (known as tinnitus) in the ears
- Partial or progressive hearing loss
- Itching inside the canal
- Excessive coughing
Suffering from one or more of these symptoms indicates earwax build up.
Reducing Hearing Loss and Earwax Build Up
If you have hearing loss due to earwax build up, you’ll need to clean your ears. While cleaning, never put any instrument, applicator or anything solid into your ear canal. Some of the home treatments include, but are not limited to:
- Drops of baby oil, mineral oil or glycerin
- Commercial eardrops
- Hydrogen or carbamide peroxide drops
- Ear irrigation
It’s important with oils that you don’t heat them past normal body temperature – hotter than body temperature can burn the ear canal. As well, if you’re irrigating your ear, the water, saline or other wax dissolving liquid needs to be warmed to body temperature to reduce the chance of dizziness and vertigo.
- Home treatments shouldn’t be tried if you have a perforated eardrum, weakened immune system, diabetes or a tube in the eardrum without consulting your doctor.
If home treatments don’t work, you can’t use them because of a weakened immune system, diabetes or other medical condition, or if you have a narrow ear canal, your hearing care specialist can manually remove the earwax.
A final note of precaution: if you often suffer hearing loss or other symptoms due to frequent earwax build up, consult your physician. It may be best to have your hearing care specialist being routine cleanings to prevent other occurrences from happening.