Earwax, also known as cerumen, occurs naturally in our ears. The outer half of our skin surrounding the ear canal contains glands that produce this viscous yellowish substance. Our genes determine the color of the wax. Its main function is to trap the dust which may otherwise infect the inner ear, after which the dust laden earwax transports itself to the outer areas of the ear’s open canal and empties itself.
Some of the functions of the earwax
As discussed earlier, the most common function of the wax is to inhibit the penetration of dust particles to the eardrum. However, the earwax provides protection and prevention of infections to the ear. It contains acid-based enzymes that prevent possibilities of bacterial and fungal growth in the ear. The oily nature of the wax also has some use, as it acts a waterproofing agent for the canal. This is the reason there is no penetration or accumulation of water in the inner ear.
Can earwax cause any problems?
Though earwax naturally shouldn’t cause any problem, there are instances where the wax becomes troublesome. Wax impaction is the most common of these problems. In an attempt to remove excess wax, if an object like a cotton bud is used, the wax may occasionally be either pushed deeper into the ear’s canal or tightly packed on one position inside. This may hinder normal transportation processes of the unneeded wax outside the ear.
This condition can also be caused by the following:
- Over-production of earwax
- Overuse/wrong use of hearing aids
- Ear canal shaped abnormally
How can I know my child has impacted earwax?
Two of the common ways you can know your child suffers from impacted earwax is when you notice your child having mild hearing loss and when he or she has ear fullness. This is the case when the canal is completely blocked. The condition is usually painless unless the wax is pushed towards the eardrum. Any attempt to remove the wax at this point will cause pain to the sensitive area of the canal. If water is trapped in the ear when the child has this condition, either while swimming or taking a shower, the child will feel some pain or will suddenly experience hearing loss.
How then can it be treated?
If it becomes problematic, impacted earwax needs to be removed. Several ways exist to handle the wax, and the most common of them is the use of wax-softening agents, a home remedy that may easily work. However, caution must be taken while using some of these agents as some are associated with allergies. Mineral oil and glycerin can be better alternatives as the effect on the earwax is still the same.
Medical assistance for ear infections is necessary if the home remedies are not working. In the hospital the treatment will be handled under sedation and general anesthesia.
How can I prevent earwax build-up in my child?
One of the best ways of preventing impaction is by avoiding the use of cotton swabs while cleaning the ear canal. It is a good practice to wipe the opening with a wet washcloth just folded over your index finger. The above home remedies should only be used if the build-up is in excess. Check for perforations and infections in the ear before using these remedies.