It Can Be A Pollution Monitor
Earwax, like many other bodily secretions, can show traces of certain toxins in the body such as heavy metals. But it’s an odd place to look and no more reliable than a simple blood test.
There are also some rare metabolic disorders that affect earwax. The most notable earwax scientific discovery of recent times is that of a 24cm wax earplug from a blue whale.
Unlike humans which shed their earwax and dead skin cells, filter-feeding whales retain their earwax, recording life events similar to the way tree rings reveal arid and wet seasons during its lifetime.
The earwax was analysed by Sascha Usenko, a environmental scientist at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He and his team found that during the 12-year-old male whale’s life it came into contact with 16 different pollutants such as pesticides.
There was a peak of exposure during the first year of life – suggesting that these were transferred from its mother either in the womb or through her milk.
High levels of the stress hormone cortisol appeared in the waxy plug as the animal reaches sexual maturity – when competing for a mate would have been a priority.
What Does It Mean When Earwax Becomes Impacted
We say that earwax is impacted when it has built up in the ear canal to such a point that there may be signs that something isnt quite right. Its important to note that most people might never need to clean their ears. Ears are designed to clean themselves. Earwax buildup and blockage often happens when people use items like cotton swabs or bobby pins to try to clean their ears. This only pushes the earwax farther into the ears and can also cause injury to the ear.
Secretion Secrets: Things You Didnt Know About Ear Wax
Earwax is one of those bodily substances which few of us like to discuss in polite company.
Like other secretions, it is something that most of us deal with in private. Yet it also holds a fascination for many.
In the past, it has been used as a lip balm and salve for puncture wounds.
But it can do a little more than that. Recent research suggests it can indicate a build up of pollutants in the body – and it could even be used to diagnose certain conditions.
Here are five things you – probably – didn’t know about ear wax.
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Physicians Might Use Almond Oil Or Olive Oil To Soften Impacted Wax Prior
But the most pressing issue surrounding earwax, for most of us, is how to remove it. Its a question that has apparently plagued humanity since at least the first century CE. In his book De Medicina, the Roman Aulus Cornelius Celsus suggested a set of remedies for removing built-up earwax. If a crust, he wrote, perhaps referring to those with dry earwax, hot oil is poured in, or verdigris mixed with honey or leek juice or a little soda in honey wine. Ouch. Once the wax is loosened, it can be flushed out with water. But if it be wax, he wrote, perhaps referring to those with wet variety, vinegar containing a little soda is introduced and when the wax has softened, the ear is washed out. He also advised that the ear should be syringed with castoreum mixed with vinegar and laurel oil and the juice of young radish rind, or with cucumber juice, mixed with crushed rose leaves. The dropping in of the juice of unripe grapes mixed with rose oil is also fairly efficacious against deafness.
Together, it all sounds only a hair more reasonable than a recipe calling for eye of newt, but even today physicians might use almond oil or olive oil to soften impacted wax prior to attempting removal.
Doctors still use olive oil to loosen stubborn wax
Earwax Treatment And Self
If you donât have a perforation or a tube in your eardrum, your doctor may recommend that you try an earwax removal method at home.
You can soften earwax by putting a few drops of baby oil, mineral oil, glycerin, hydrogen peroxide, or over-the-counter wax softening drops such as Debrox or Murine into the affected ear canal. That may be enough to get the wax to come out.
After youâve tried a wax softener for a few days, use a bulb-type syringe to gently flush the ear with warm water. The water should be at body temperature to help prevent dizziness.
You can buy over-the-counter kits that combine softening drops with an irrigation system. Your doctor can explain which one might work for you and how to use it.
It may take several tries to get home treatment to work. If it doesnât, see your doctor.
Ear candling is not recommended. The procedure uses a hollow cone made of paraffin and beeswax with cloth on the tapered end. The tapered end is placed inside the ear, and an assistant lights the other end, while making sure your hair does not catch on fire. In theory, as the flame burns, a vacuum is created, which draws the wax out of the ear. Limited clinical trials, however, showed that no vacuum was created, and no wax was removed. Furthermore, this practice may result in serious injury.
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Why Do I Have So Much Ear Wax
Ear wax problems can be caused by:
Genetically, more than normal earwax is secreted in some peoples ears. You are more likely to have excessive ear wax production if theres a family history of the same.
Particles like debris, microorganisms and too much dust in the air can enter the ear canal. Excess wax production, therefore, occurs because the ear manufactures more wax to deal with the situation.
In case you are always listening to loud music or wear earphones frequently, your ears produce more earwax for self-protection. Besides, earphones and headphones can prevent wax from dropping out. The same can happen if you use hearing aids.
The incorrect attempt of earwax elimination using bobby pins or sharp objects may cause skin scratches. To protect against irritation, your ears will manufacture excess wax.
5. Inner Ear Infection
Wax production by sebaceous glands in the middle ear helps to eliminate dirt here, thereby preventing bacteria from getting into the inner ear. Once microorganisms enter the inner ear, wax cannot remove them. Moreover, any pus that oozes into the middle ear may cause increased wax secretion that can lead to wax buildup.
6. Other Causes
Other causes of increased wax in the ear include ear canal narrowing , hair overgrowth within the canal and hypothyroidism. All this can lead you to wonder “Why do I have so much ear wax?”
Medical Treatment For Earwax Blockage
Your doctor may use one or a combination of methods to remove your earwax:
They can scoop it out with a small plastic spoon called a curette.
They can irrigate your ear with warmed water, sodium bicarbonate, or other prescription-strength ear drops and flush the wax out.
They can use gentle suction to remove the wax.
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What Is Earwax Buildup
Earwax is produced by glands in the ear canal. Although scientists are still not completely sure why we have earwax, it does trap dust and other small particles and prevent them from reaching and possibly damaging or infecting the eardrum. Normally, the wax dries up and falls out of the ear, along with any trapped dust or debris. Everyone makes ear wax, but the amount and type are genetically determined just like hair color or height. Smaller or oddly shaped ear canals may make it difficult for the wax our ears make naturally to get out of the canal. This can lead to wax impactions. This is earwax buildup.
Itchy Outer Ear Canal At Night
The common cause of itchy ear canal is otitis media and otitis externa. This is the inflammation of the ear passage. Otitis externa is the inflammation of the outer ear passage whereas otitis media is the inflammation of the middle ear. Another common inflammation condition is otitis interna, the inflammation of inner ear. The inflammation can cause itching at night or during the day.
The other possible cause of the itching will include bacterial infection. It is common for bacteria to burrow into the sensitive skin of the ear canal and trigger an infection that can lead to swelling, redness, pain and itching. For most people the itching will be worse than the pain.
The other possible of the itching at night is ear canal dermatitis. This is the infection of the skin in or around the ear canal. The cause of the dermatitis can be allergic reaction to ear rings and other jewelry or reaction to body lotion and other deodorants. Discontinue the use of the allergen to reduce the irritation and itching.
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Reasons To Leave Earwax Alone
- By Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing
Follow me on Twitter @RobShmerling
Can you think of something you do thats nearly irresistible, widely popular, but a bad idea thats based on a health myth? Thats right, Im talking about inserting cotton-tipped swabs into your ears.
According to guidelines from the American Academy of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery Foundation, experts strongly discourage twirling cotton-tipped swabs in the ears. Heres why.
What Is Wax Blockage Of The Ear Canal
In the outer part of the ear canal, cells produce a wax called cerumen that traps particles of dust and dirt. The wax also repels water, protecting the delicate eardrum from damage. The wax is moved outward gradually by the lining of the ear canal, carrying any dirt it has trapped. Eventually, the wax dries and falls out of the ear in small, unnoticeable flakes.
Normal production of earwax is healthy and good for your ears. If too much wax is being produced, it can block the ear, but more commonly, the ear becomes blocked because of improper ear care and ear cleaning. If you push cotton swabs, pencils, your finger or other objects into your ear canal to try to remove wax, the force can push the wax further into the ear and compress it against the eardrum. Earwax blockage, also called cerumen impaction, is a common cause of temporary hearing loss.
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When Should I See My Doctor
If you are uncertain whether you have a hole in your eardrum, consult your physician prior to trying any over-the-counter remedies. Putting eardrops or other products in an ear with a perforated eardrum may cause an infection. In the event that the home treatments discussed in this leaflet are not satisfactory, or if wax has accumulated so much that it blocks the ear canal , your physician may prescribe eardrops designed to soften wax, or it may be washed or vacuumed out. Occasionally, an otolaryngologist may need to remove the wax using microscopic visualization.
Take Care Of Your Ears
Earwax usually works its way to the ear canals outer end because its pushed out by new wax production. Chewing and moving your jaw also helps earwax move outward.
If you use a cotton swab to clean your ears, only use them on the outer, visible part of your ear. Never insert a swab or anything else into the ear canal. Doing so can push the wax deeper, even if it appears that youre removing some wax.
Help the earwaxs natural migration out of the ear by using a warm, wet washcloth to clean the outer ear when you bathe each night. That should be enough to help you shed excess earwax.
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A Waring About Ear Candles
The recent popularity of ear candles is quite troubling. Ear candles are marketed and sold to the public as a means of treating earwax buildup by removing earwax from the ears. It is important to note, however, that the Food & Drug Administration has issued warnings to consumers that ear candles may not be safe to use.
The process of ear candling involves inserting a lit hollow candle into the ear, with the notion that suction created by the burning candle will draw earwax out of the ear canal. These candles can result in injury to the ear and the face including:
What Causes Excessive Earwax
Typically the body removes earwax and dead skin through the action of chewing or talking. Jaw movement causes the earwax to move from your inner ear towards your outer ear.
About 12 million people get treated for excess earwax every year in the United States. Children and older adults are most at risk for earwax blockage, known as impaction. Reasons for earwax buildup include:
- Trapped earwax and dead skin: Can be the result of the normal aging process can also be caused by harmful earwax removal methods
- Narrow ear shape: Can be affected by the shape of an individual’s ear, scar tissue from multiple and/or severe ear infections, or increased amounts of hair in the ear canal
- Overproduction:Can be the result of trauma, trapped water, and other unknown causes
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Earwax Is Not Really Wax
Its called wax, but its not a wax at all. The name comes from the waxy texture. Earwax is made partially of skin cells from the auditory, or ear, the canal. This area contains skin that is always renewing itself. As dead cells drop off, they are pulled in to produce earwax.
Earwax also consists of secretions from two glands specifically, the ceruminous and the sebaceous glands. The ceruminous gland is a sweat gland that rests just outside the auditory canal. The sebaceous glands excrete oil that helps lubricate the skin.
When you break it down, earwax is made of:
- Fatty acids
They mix with the dead skin cells to create this very important substance.
How To Remove Excess Ear Wax
Provided there is no hole in your eardrum, the following self-care measures will help clear excess earwax from your ear canal:
- Soften the earwax by applying drops of mineral oil, glycerin or baby oil into your ear using an eyedropper.
- Clean out with warm water. Using a rubber-bulb syringe, wash out the softened wax one to two days after applying the drops. Gently squirt the warm water into the ear canal. Tilt your head and pull the outer ear up and back to aid in removing the wax. Finally, drain the water out by tipping your head sideways when you are done irrigating.
- Dry your ear canal. Gently, use a hand-held dryer or a towel to dry your outer ear when done.
It may be necessary to repeat the procedure a few times before excess earwax drops out. The softening agents may, however, cause the outer wax layer to loosen and go deeper into the ear or even against the eardrum. In case your symptoms dont improve after several cleanings, see a doctor.
Although you are justified to ask “Why do I have so much ear wax?” you should avoid trying to dig it out with such things as cotton swabs, paper clips or hairpins. This is because doing so may push wax deeper into the ear and cause more serious problems, including injury within the ear canal or even the eardrum.
Warning About Ear Candles
Food and Drug Administration warns consumers against using marketed ear candles as remedies for ear wax buildup and other conditions since the products may be unsafe.
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Otitis Externa Swimmers Ear
Another possible cause of itchy ear canal is otitis externa, this is the inflammation and swelling of the passage of the outer ear. To treat this kind of infection you can use antibiotics, either oral or injectable, this is good for relieving the pain. Hydrocortisone may also be used to reduce the inflammation and bacterial infection.
Hydrocortisone contain antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agents that will help reduce the outer ear infection.
Can I Prevent A Build
Some people are troubled by repeated build-up of earwax and require ear irrigation every so often. In this situation, to prevent earwax building up and forming a plug, some doctors recommend using ear drops regularly – for example, olive oil ear drops. You may also consider buying a bulb syringe which can be used at home to perform your own irrigation.
However, there is no clear research evidence to guide on this issue. For example, it is not clear how often the drops should be used. Different doctors advise different things – from daily, to once a fortnight. It is also not clear if regular use of ear drops does actually prevent earwax from building up. However, if you are troubled by regular plugs of earwax, you may wish to try using ear drops on a regular basis to see if this prevents the problem.
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The Outer Ear And Canal
The outer ear is the funnel-like part of the ear you can see on the side of the head, plus the ear canal .
The ear canal is shaped somewhat like an hourglass-narrowing part way down. The skin of the outer part of the canal has special glands that produce earwax. This wax is supposed to trap dust and dirt particles to keep them from reaching the eardrum. Usually the wax accumulates a bit, dries out and then comes tumbling out of the ear, carrying dirt and dust with it. Or it may slowly migrate to the outside where it can be wiped off. The ear canal may be blocked by wax when attempts to clean the ear push wax deeper into the ear canal and cause a blockage. Wax blockage is one of the most common causes of hearing loss.