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Could Earwax Damage Your Eardrum or Hearing Aid?

Audiologist demonstrating how ear wax can affect hearing aids

Earwax is an incredibly important substance, and one that has a vital role to play in ear health. However, for some individuals, earwax can become bothersome – either due to buildup, or because it causes hearing aid-related issues. Here’s what you need to know. 

What is earwax? 

What most of us call “earwax” is, medically speaking, called cerumen; a wax-like oil that lines the ear canal. It is often yellow in color, but can also be gray or orange. 

What is the function of earwax?

Earwax is a kind of protective coating for the ear canals. It is produced by the modified apocrine sweat glands and sebaceous glands located in the canal, and its purpose is to ensure that dust, debris, and lint do not accumulate there. In addition, earwax also plays a crucial role in ensuring the ear canal does not become irritated or inflamed when exposed to water, as well as helping to guard against infection.

Earwax is propelled along the ear canal by jaw movements (such as talking or chewing) and, upon reaching the edge of the canal, falls or washes away. However, the body can also overproduce earwax and cause it to become impacted in the ear canal. 

What are the symptoms of impacted earwax?

Impacted earwax can be very uncomfortable, causing pain, dizziness and even hearing loss. People also describe a feeling of “fullness” in the ear, itchiness and tinnitus can also develop

How can impacted earwax be removed?

Impacted earwax requires expert assistance from an audiologist to remove successfully. Audiologists have the necessary equipment and expertise to make sure that the wax is removed both safely and successfully.

There are three different earwax removal methods that are available to audiologists. The first method involves the use of a small instrument called a curette, which has a hook or scoop at the tip. The audiologist will insert the device into the ear canal and gently remove the impacted earwax. 

The second method involves irrigating the ear canal with a carbamide peroxide solution, which helps to dissolve the impacted ear wax and allows it to be removed. 

The last method involves using a specially-designed vacuum to create suction in the ear canal in order to remove the wax. 

All three methods work very well and can immediately – and safely – provide relief from the symptoms of impacted ear wax.

Can impacted earwax damage the eardrum? 

It is not uncommon for people with impacted ear wax to have damaged or even perforated eardrums. However, earwax alone cannot perforate the eardrum – after all, earwax exists to protect the ears, not harm them.

It has therefore been theorized that the reason those with impacted earwax present with perforated eardrums is due to attempts to remove the earwax, often using foreign objects such as cotton swabs. Such attempts should always be avoided; in addition to potentially seriously harming the eardrum, inserting foreign objects in the ear canal can actually make the problem worse, as the wax is pushed even deeper into the ear canal. This risk further underlines the fact that impacted earwax is a medical condition that requires the assistance of a trained, experienced audiologist to remedy. 

Can earwax damage hearing aids? 

For hearing aid users, earwax can potentially pose problems. Hearing aids sit in or close to the ear canal, which can mean that earwax gathers on the device rather than exiting the ear as normal. When this happens, earwax can hamper the performance of the hearing aid. 

How can hearing aids be protected from earwax buildup?

Most hearing aids have an in-built protection in the form of a wax filter, which is designed to prevent buildup that could compromise the device. However, these wax filters can become clogged, so it is important to check them regularly, and change them if necessary – your audiologist will be able to advise you further on this if required. 

In addition to keeping the wax filter in the best possible condition, it is also advisable to try and wipe the hearing aid clean after each use. Use a dry cloth and simply wipe any visible earwax from the device before storing the device for the night. 

As well as the at-home cleaning methods described above, it can also be beneficial to have your hearing aid by your audiologist at least once a year, or more if needed. Professional cleanings can help keep your device in the best working condition for as long as possible.

Earwax has an incredibly important role to play, but can, on occasion, cause issues. However, these issues can usually be remedied by seeking the advice of a professional, experienced audiologist.

To find out more about Hearing Solution Center and how we can help you with earwax issues, call 704-912-4422.