Cerumen (Ear Wax) Buildup: Causes, Symptoms, and Removal

Hear at Home offers safe and effective cerumen removal services by a licensed and trained professional. These services are offered by appointment at our Delbrook clinic in North Vancouver, starting in Fall 2022.

About Cerumen

Cerumen, otherwise known as ear wax, is a mixture of secretions, naturally produced by glands in the outer ear canal. Cerumen itself is made up of over 40 substances (dead skin, keratin and fatty acids among others) and can vary in colour, consistency and textural properties. The presence of some wax in one’s ear is completely normal and in fact serves several positive functions; some of which include lubrication and overall protection of the ear. Cerumen also has antibacterial properties, preventing things like dust and debris from travelling too far down the ear canal. Typically, cerumen expels itself on its own without any intervention but in some instances can accumulate and cause blockages.

Causes & Symptoms

Common causes of wax build-up include narrow ear canals, loss of elasticity and aging, the use of cotton swabs to clean ears, living/working in dusty environments and even hearing aid use itself. That is why, if you are a current hearing aid wearer, it is imperative that you clean your hearing aids regularly to prevent any damage caused by wax. Simple and consistent maintenance ensures that your devices are functioning optimally and that you are hearing as you should.

  • Experiencing any of the following symptoms may suggest a build-up of cerumen in one or both ears:
  • Aural fullness
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Earaches
  • Dizziness
  • Itchiness of the ear
  • Decrease in hearing
  • Decrease in hearing aid performance

Ear Wax Removal

The licensed and trained professionals at Hear at Home offer 2 methods of cerumen removal; irrigation and manual removal. Prior to any removal, your clinician will complete a comprehensive case history and perform a visual inspection of your ear using a video otoscope. Both ‘pre-removal’ measures will help your clinician view the extent of any blockage and determine the best method of removal. Diligent infection control measures are taken before, during and after each cerumen removal appointment.

Irrigation (‘spray wash system’)

A low-pressure, irrigation system is used to remove wax from the ear. Water is carefully sprayed into the ear from a variety of holes at a 30-degree angle. Rather than spraying water directly at the eardrum (potentially unsafe), this technique allows for the canal to be safely washed. The warm water will help to soften and loosen the cerumen before it is ‘flushed out.’ As the water exits the ear canal, so will the cerumen; both will collect in a catch basin. This method of treatment is painless and easy however should only be performed on patients with healthy eardrums.

Manual removal (‘curette use’)

A thin, lit, one-time-use tool is used to gently scoop, pull or extract the cerumen from the ear canal. The curette can be angled and of varying lengths. A discussion surrounding pertinent next steps, at-home treatment plans, etc. will always follow.

Routine Check-ups & Cleanings

If you are prone to excessive wax build-up or have had cerumen removed in the past, Hear at Home suggests that you have your ears routinely checked and cleaned. Some safe and effective measures to manage or prevent wax build-up at home can be taken. These include the use of softening agents such
as mineral or olive oil; use 2-3 drops of oil in each ear, one at a time. Lay sideways for approximately 5 minutes to allow the oil to ‘sit and soak.’ This process will help to soften any wax so that it can make its way out of your ears naturally.

Hear at Home does not recommend the use of traditional cotton swabs (Q-tips) as they can often push existing wax further into your ears. Cerumen management should be done without causing any harm and should only be performed by a trained professional. Although it cannot be done without risk, the trained and licensed professionals at Hear at Home pledge to always acknowledge and mitigate the risks associated with cerumen removal. Consent can be revoked at any time during the procedure. If the circumstances surrounding your wax build-up are not within our scope of practice (wax is far too impacted, etc.), we will refer you to an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist) or your GP (General Physician). This is considered best practice and is in the best interest of you, the patient.

Monitoring and managing wax build-up is an integral part of anyone’s hearing healthcare journey. Please contact our office today if you have any questions surrounding cerumen removal and/or management. We look forward to offering you this safe and effective service.

Meaghan Umphrey

Meaghan Umphrey

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