Ear wax medically known as Cerumen is generally a mystery to the average person. Most feel that if there is wax in their ears, then they are “dirty.” This is simply not the case; it’s supposed to be there! But if that’s true, then what is it for? Why is it there, and most importantly, how do I clean my ears???
Cerumen is made up of oil and sweat glands, the fancy term for these glands are apocrine (oil gland) and sebaceous (sweat gland). One interesting fact is that the body products different consistencies or colors of Cerumen depending on your ethnicity. Hormones and age-related changes can also play a role in its makeup. Sometimes these changes do cause it to build up or get stuck in the canal and require professional removal but more on that later.
The role of Cerumen is to naturally work its way out of your canal to clear the ear of debris or foreign objects. It mostly ends up at the bottom of the ear canal due to a little thing called gravity! I’m sure you are now thinking that if that’s the case, how DO I clean my ears? The answer to that for most people is using a washcloth when bathing. Cotton swabs were not designed to be inserted into the ear canal. They should only be used to clean the outer ear.
Some people’s ears do require a visit to the clinic for the cleaning to be done professionally. This includes tortuous or bendy ear canals, smaller or collapsing ear canals, and ear canals that have undergone surgery or radiation. In these ears is the Cerumen may build up and can cause a significant degree of hearing loss if not treated professionally.
Finally, a few demographic populations that need extra care to their ears are people diagnosed with Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Downs Syndrome. Down’s syndrome tends to affect the shape of the ear canal along with the makeup of the Cerumen, which makes it more difficult to move out of the canal. In addition, people who suffer from cognitive impairments, such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, generally do not realize that their hearing is becoming impaired. It’s more and more common that someone having memory problems or becoming confused are found to have some degree of hearing loss, which may be exasperating their symptoms. These ears should be looked at regularly by a professional such as an audiologist, otolaryngologist (or ENT), or nurse who has been trained in cerumen management.