Ear wax and its complications

Ear wax and its complications

What is Earwax?

Earwax or Cerumen is a water resistant substance found in the ear canal, specifically present in the outer 1/3rd of the auditory canal but can move back up till the eardrum.

How Earwax is produced?

There are specialized glands in the outer ear canal which produce a liquid secretion. That secretions combine with the secretion of other glands i.e. apocrine glands become the cerumen or the earwax we see.

Why do we have wax in our ears?

Earwax is a natural barrier towards water, infection, trauma and foreing bodies. It protects our ear canal and eardrum against all the offensive agents.


Can Earwax cause any problems?

Usually, earwax doesn’t pose any problems in 96% of the population and they never feel a need to get it removed. But in 5-6% of population especially those having any structural defect or having a different composition of glandular secretions produce excessive cerumen which tends to get impacted in the ear canal and cause problems like:

  • Sensation of ear fullness..
  • Decreased hearing.
  • Earache.
  • Infection.

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How does it present?

How to differentiate between Earwax and a foreign body?

Impacted earwax and impacted foreing body can present with similar signs and symptoms. But a foreign body usually has watery and foul smelling ear discharge. Earwax doesn’t present with an ear discharge if there is no superadded infection present. 

When should we clean Earwax?

As mentioned earlier, earwax is not problematic in most of the population so there’s no need to clean it. There are natural mechanisms of wax removal e.g. movement of the jaw which helps to remove any excessive wax.

However, people having impacted or excessive ear wax needs to get their wax removed every 3 to 6 months.

Who can clean Earwax?

Earwax removal is a complicated procedure and it can only be done by ENT specialists or well trained professionals. There are several methods to remove earwax:

  • Wax softening ear drops e.g soda glycerin, olive oil.
  • Suctioning or manual removal of wax under direct vision.
  • Syringing 

Are there any special tools to clean Earwax?

yes ,ranging from simple otoscope or ear speculum to as complex as an endoscope all  are used to remove. Selection of method and instrument is dependent on the expertise of an ENT professional and the structural difficulties in a specific patient.

Complications of cleaning Earwax:

yes , major complications are as follows:

  • Local irritation
  • Trauma to the ear canal
  • Perforation of the eardrum
  • Infection
  • Vertigo after syringing.



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