Ear wax: we all have it. But what are the most common myths about this “sticky” subject?
Myth 1: Having wax means your ears are dirty
With its yellowish-brown appearance, you could be forgiven for mistaking wax for dirt, but wax is your friend!
Wax is produced to capture bacteria, dust and other airborne particles and then carry these out of the ear. In short, wax does the cleaning of your ears for you, and wiping the wax away from the outside of your ear with a tissue, cotton wool pad, or wet flannel is all that is required!
Myth 2: Cotton buds are the best ‘at home’ method of wax removal
It seems logical, right? Cotton is soft and couldn’t possibly do any harm if I give it a gentle wipe around the inside of my ear canal… Wrong! If you want to know the quickest way to fall out with your Audiologist or ENT doctor then use cotton buds!
Whilst using a cotton bud might pick up some of the wax from your ear canal walls, it is likely to force the majority of the wax deep into the ear, making it harder to migrate out of the ear naturally. Using cotton buds regularly can cause the wax to build up into a wall deep in the ear, making it more likely to block up the ear entirely and cause hearing loss.
Additionally, although cotton is generally quite gentle, the skin that lines the ear canal is particularly sensitive to abrasion even from cotton fibres. Abrasion of the skin can make the ear more prone to infection, which can cause pain, discharge, and hearing loss.
I have also personally seen several cotton bud tips which have become lodged deep in the ear, either through over-zealous “cleaning” or through faulty product manufacture.
Myth 3: Hopi ear candles are good for wax removal
Amazingly, putting a hollow tube of wax into the ear canal entrance and lighting it has been proven to do little to help remove wax from the ear! In fact, it has been shown that ear candles are more likely to deposit more wax into the ear canal; wax that is hot and can risk damaging the skin both inside and outside the ear.
Myth 4: Wax build-up only affects hearing
Although hearing loss is the most common side-effect of wax build up, wax can also cause tinnitus (a phantom sound in the ear, such as a ringing, buzzing, or humming), or sensations of pressure in the ear.
If the wax is very deep, and comes into contact with the eardrum, it can cause discomfort, pain, and even dizziness.
Myth 5: I should use drops every day to keep my ears clear
There are a multitude of different drops available at the pharmacy marketed for wax removal. Many of these drops contain active ingredients included to help break up the wax. However, in some drops the active ingredient is hydrogen peroxide (think bleaching your hair or teeth!), and so it is not surprising that long-term use risks damaging the sensitive skin in the ear canal. In fact long-term use of any ear drops is not advisable.
Myth 6: Using olive oil will get rid of my wax
Whilst olive oil is the safest product to use in your ears, and can be helpful in softening hard wax, it does not have any properties that break up the wax itself. However it can be a good idea to put a drop of oil in your ears once a week to keep the wax soft and prevent build up of dry wax.
Using a little oil before a professional wax removal procedure can make the process easier and more comfortable, but using too much can cause the wax to turn into a runny mess making removal very tricky! Repeatedly putting too much oil in one ear before bed and then lying on the opposite side can cause the wax to run deeper into your ear and collect near the eardrum, resulting in a higher risk of blockage and more difficult removal. It’s important to follow your hearing healthcare professional’s advice on olive oil use before wax removal.
If you think you have a problem with ear wax and would like to discuss this further, please contact us.