Ear Wax Facts
Updated: Jan 28
During and especially after earwax removal treatments, I am asked a lot of questions. There are two which I hear most frequently.
“Why do I get so much earwax?”
And following on from that:
“Is there anything I can do to prevent it happening in the future?” So let's deal with the first question first; Why do we get the wax at all?
The formation of earwax in the ear canal is natural. Wax is formed by a gland. The medical term for earwax is Cerumen- and it is formed by ceruminous glands. There is also oil forrmed by the sebaceous glands and sweat from the apocrine glands. Add to this a goodly amount of dead skin, hair, dust and general detritus and before you know it your ear canal is blocked with wax.
As with anything in human anatomy - if it forms it must have a function. It in fact has several, it cleanses, moistens, maintains PH balance, fights infection and protects form foreign bodies, just to mention a few. Despite its appearance it is not dirty – on the contrary it contains lysozyme, the same enzyme found in tears.
But earwax doesn’t need to be there in great lumps to perform these functions and ideally it won’t be. It should in fact find its own way out of your ear canal.
You see, just as it is with the rest of your body, the skin in your ear canal is constantly dying. Elsewhere on the body the dead skin cells are removed by friction as you dry yourself, or as it rubs on your clothing or bedding and simply by touch. As there is no such thing happening in the ear canal the body has a system whereby the dying skin moves constantly out of the ear canal. If you drew a dot in the middle of your eardrum in about 4 or 5 months it would have reached your earlobe and as the skin migrates outwards, the earwax is meant to travel out with it. It is only when this process is interrupted that the wax accumulates to excess and becomes a problem. There could be several reasons for this.: the shape of the ear canal, the consistency of the earwax, or an obstruction in the ear canal such as hair or dust. There is also evidence that the process of skin and earwax migration becomes less efficient with advancing age. If it doesn’t migrate it’s a bit like a rolling snowball – it grows and grows to the point where it becomes excessive and turns from beneficial to hazardous that it needs to be dealt with.
This is when you’ll feel symptoms, feeling of blockage, impaired hearing, tinnitus, discomfort and others. This leads neatly into the second question which is what should be done about the earwax and how can its growth be prevented. The simple answer is that it cannot be prevented and it follows from the old adage that you shouldn't put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear canal, that you should simply leave things alone. Regular use of drops may if anything adds to the wax content. Worse than this are attempts to deal with earwax using cotton buds, hairclips or anything else that can be pushed into the ear canal. At best this simply push the wax further in and at worst it could be damaging to the ear canal and eardrum. It is true that once it starts your wax build-up is likely to recur. This is why at Kilmarnock Hearing Care we offer an annual ear health check whereby things can be monitored. If we find that we do not need to clear wax from the ears there is no charge for this service .
Please feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss anything to do with your ears, their health and your hearing.