Managing Ear Wax

by Lisa Pulsipher, Au.D.

What is Ear Wax and What is its Purpose?
Cerumen (the medical term for ear wax) is a normal product of the human ear canal. It is composed of sebum from sebaceous glands, a paraffin-like substance from modified sweat glands, epithelial skin material that naturally sloughs off, and environmental substances such as dirt, dust, hairs, etc. It is produced by the outer 1/3 portion of the ear canal and, in normal amounts, is beneficial to the health of the ear. Biological purposes of cerumen include: removal or migration of foreign objects out of the ear canal itself (such as dust and sand), insecticide (it kills and immobilizes bugs that might get into the ear), and to humidify and warm the air entering the ear canal.

Why Does Ear Wax Build Up?
Dry, arid climates as well as hearing aid or frequent earplug use can prevent the ear from naturally moving old cerumen out of the ear, which may result in cerumen impaction/occlusion, or blockage of the ear canal by ear wax. This blockage may cause a temporary hearing loss which resolves once the cerumen is removed. Additionally, the presence of cerumen in the ear canal does not cause dizziness or vertigo.

What Can I Do About It?
If you are having concerns about the health of your ears, hearing, and/or balance, you should see a physician qualified to evaluate those systems. The Otolaryngologists (Ear-Nose-Throat physicians) and Audiology Department at Southwestern ENT are highly knowledgeable about all ear conditions and are experienced in addressing your concerns and recommending appropriate treatments. Your ENT physician may need to clean your ears under a microscope in the clinic. It may also be recommended that you prevent further wax impactions with weekly use of mineral oil drops or Debrox.

Call 505-982-4848 to schedule an appointment with any of our five physicians.