Since our childhood, we have been repeatedly told to keep our ears clean, using a ear bud. Are our elders right in suggesting so? Should we listen to their advice and continue using an ear bud ? You can read on to make an informed decision. 

What is wax? 

Wax is a natural secretion of the ears containing a mixture of dead skin cells and sebum (a lubricant secreted by the hair inside the ear). Its function is to trap the dust entering the ear and preventing it from going deep inside. Wax is produced only in the outer 1/3rd of the ear canal which is a hair bearing area. It is not a waste product but a very useful secretion. Freshly formed wax is transparent in colour and as it ages becomes brown or black. Over a few days,the wax is naturally pushed out of the ear canal and falls off during sleep or while taking a bath. The skin lining the ear is special in that it is the only skin in the body which can expel wax. Only a few people have the tendency to accumulate wax even when not using ear buds. 

What happens when we use an ear bud ?

The wax which should be present only in the outer part of the ear, is pushed deeper inside from where it cannot be naturally expelled. So, over a period of time, wax starts accumulating in the ear and goes even deeper, eventually hitting the ear drum. This will lead to hard of hearing. If the wax stagnates for long, it can infect the ear drum leading to severe pain.

How should the accumulated wax be removed? 

There are no home remedies to remove accumulated wax. Using wax solving ear drops also does not help as the wax absorbs the drops and swells up leading to further pain and loss of hearing. You need to visit an ENT specialist who will have appropriate instruments to remove the wax.

Is wax removal painful? 

IF done using syringing or wax hooks, Many patients complain of pain and are apprehensive in going back for ear cleaning further complicating matters. With the advent of microscopes and endoscopes with magnification, wax removal is a breeze and can be achieved without pain or discomfort. So always visit an ENT specialist,especially one has has an endoscope or microscope.

How often should the ears be cleaned?

I suggest everyone to have their ears checked atleast once a year.