Earwax removal is a normal part of personal hygiene, and most of us will never have a problem with it. Medically termed, “cerumen,” earwax is essentially made up of keratin, fatty acids, and cholesterol. The human body-as well as many mammals-naturally produces this substance. Glands secrete it inside of the outer ear. Though it can be annoying at times, even gross, it has a critical role in the health of our ears.

The main purpose of earwax is to protect the sensitive parts of our inner ears. Things like dust, bacteria, water and even insects are kept out to prevent our ear canal from being compromised. Microorganisms thrive in dark, moist places, and if it weren’t for this oily wax, these organisms would be able to colonize and cause some major problems. Under normal conditions, the process of production and secretion is very natural and often goes unnoticed.

There are many home remedies and methods of achieving earwax removal. The most common one is the cotton swab. These are effective tools for regular wax buildup and are overall safe unless there is excessive accumulation. However, a small ball of wax can be pushed further into the ear canal with a cotton swab and cause a blockage that can accumulate into a big problem. Whenever the ear canal is blocked, the natural process of air and moisture is interrupted and can lead to infections and even temporary partial hearing loss.

Although home remedies can often solve small wax buildup, it is important to know when earwax removal should be left to the professionals. There are a few ways to know when it is time to see an audiologist. Anytime the wax becomes excessive, especially over a consistent period, or it turns a dark, reddish brown, the solution might be better left to the pros. In the case of a true problem, home remedies like bobby pins or irrigation solutions might cause permanent damage. Those who wear hearing aids or use headphones often are at a higher risk of a blockage since these devices tend to push the earwax further into the ear canal and inhibit air flow.

An audiologist has the know-how and the tools to solve your ear problems. During your appointment, you can expect to see an instrument called an otoscope, or ear scope. This device has a small flashlight with a magnifying lens attached that allows the audiologist to get a good look at what is going on in your ear. The otoscope can detect whether or not there is a blockage due to excessive earwax or if an infection is present. If there is buildup, the audiologist can safely remove the wax with specially designed tools.

Most of us will never experience any disruption in the process of earwax, but it is critical to have any potential problems checked. Our hearing is precious, and we only have two ears. Taking good care of them makes good sense, and you can have peace of mind knowing that there are professionals out there who can assure that your ears stay healthy.

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