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Earwax - a Problem for Seniors and Others

Earwax (Cerumen) is good stuff with a bad image. Think of it as self-draining engine oil for the ears. Like engine oil earwax collects dirt, repels water, and lubricates the ear canal. It even defends the ear canal against infection. After doing all of this it moves outward to be washed or wiped away. And while it might look dirty, it keeps the ear canal healthy. In fact, daily removal of wax from the ear canal can cause problems.

 CerumenAn EARscope can show you earwax buildup. This and other photos of the ear canal can be found in EARS, An Owner's Manual.
Photo used by permission:
Michael Hawke, MD Silent Partners Snoring and Laser Clinic, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
© Copyright Michael Hawke, MD. All rights reserved.

Too much earwax is the most common complaint. Excess wax is generated by seniors, earphone users, hearing aid wearers, car drivers next to open windows, and ironically, those who regularly clean out their ears.  Using q-tips tends to push earwax back into the canal which forms a plug against the eardrum.

If you need to clean out extra wax, warm water is the easiest and safest way to do it. Ear syringes are available at drug stores. Clinics often use water pics which pulse warm water into the canal to dislodge problem wax.  

Sometimes earwax hardens like wall plaster. There are drug store preparations like Debrox™ to help soften it if water treatments don't work. But for deeply set, rock-hard earwax or foreign items deep in the ear canal you had better have your medical provider deal with it.

Note:  We are not doctors so cannot offer you medical advice.  Your best course of action is to work in close partnership with medically trained individuals who support home ear care.


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