Earwax Removal 101
Earwax, known by the medical term cerumen, serves as a protective barrier for the ear canal, keeping bacteria, dust, and other potentially harmful particles from reaching the eardrum. But sometimes earwax can build up and create a blockage in the ear canal, requiring removal.
In this blog post, we’ll break down how to determine if you need earwax removal, the methods of safely removing earwax blockages, and when to seek professional help.
How to determine if you need earwax removal
Since earwax accumulates gradually over months or years, it can be tricky to detect until there is a very noticeable problem, which is when most patients seek help. Earwax often will not have a noticeable effect on hearing until the ear canal becomes fully blocked, where the effect on hearing becomes quite obvious.
Many patients come to us for earwax removal services when their ears become fully blocked with wax that has been accumulating for years, leaving them unable to hear properly in one or both ears. In some cases, these individuals may produce excessive earwax requiring regular earwax removal; in other instances, it is the result of an acute problem and a single earwax removal can solve the issue.
A few common symptoms you might experience if you’re in need of earwax removal are:
- Trouble hearing
- Ringing in your ears
- A feeling of “fullness” or pressure in your ears
- Liquid or discharge from your ears
- Discomfort or soreness in your ear canal
- Dizziness or vertigo
If you’re located in Ottawa and you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, our professional audiologists can inform you of whether an earwax blockage is the issue or if your symptoms are a result of another hearing problem.
We understand the acute and urgent nature of earwax blockages and we prioritize these appointments; we strive to have patients seen the same day, next day, or at the earliest availability, minimally same week. We also understand that many working professionals and families cannot take time off to be seen during traditional hours, so our experienced audiologists are now offering appointments on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings for earwax removal. Visit our website to book an appointment.
Common myths about earwax removal techniques
It’s a common misconception that earwax removal does not require professional assistance. In fact, by DIYing your earwax removal, you could put your ears at risk of harm.
Old home remedies for earwax removal like using cotton swabs can actually make the problem and blockage worse. Other methods, such as ear candling (which involves lighting a hollow “candle” and inserting it into the ear) have no medical benefits and are actually quite dangerous; Health Canada specifically warns against this alternative practice due to the risk of serious injury and lack of efficacy; never try this!
Types of earwax
There are five different types of earwax: soft, medium, hard, dry, and skin-like earwax (as seen below).
Safe methods of earwax removal
When done by a qualified specialist, earwax removal is safe, quick, and painless. The safest and most effective approach to removing earwax is determined by the type of earwax creating the blockage, as well as other factors, such as the state of the eardrum.
Manual earwax removal
Dry, hard, and skin-like earwax is best removed manually with an instrument called a curette.
Earwax removal using water
Soft earwax is best removed with irrigation (water). The irrigation approach involves flushing the ear canal with warm water using a special system called The Elephant Ear Washer to safely (and painlessly) remove it. The irrigation method is especially helpful if earwax is very soft or deep in the ear canal – any earwax that can’t be removed with a curette can be removed with water.
A combined approach of manual removal and irrigation is often appropriate. In some infrequent instances where wax is very hard and can’t be safely removed with either method, our audiologists may recommend eardrops to soften the wax for removal a few days later.
Potentially unsafe methods of earwax removal
It’s important to note that in Canada and around the world, there is a lack of providers who are properly trained in earwax removal. As a result, there are limited providers offering earwax removal services. While your nurse practitioner or family doctor can help manage earwax buildup efficiently, accidents like eardrum perforation (hole in the eardrum), can occur if not managed properly.
Historically, physicians used large, stainless-steel syringes to remove earwax using the irrigation technique. While these syringes aren’t widely used today, some medical clinics still use them. As experienced clinical audiologists, we’ve seen first-hand patients who have had their eardrums perforated by these high-pressure syringes; as such, they should be avoided.
While suction (or microsuction) is often used by experts like Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) surgeons to "debride" the ear canal and remove soft and very soft wax/discharge, if not used properly, the extremely high decibel levels it produces in the ear canal can unintentionally induce temporary or permanent hearing loss or tinnitus. Additionally, because suction can be difficult to perform safely, it is a higher risk procedure than other methods, and can often uncomfortable for the patient.
Example of suction equipment
At Treat Hearing, we have decided to take a cautious approach and avoid these risks; we do not use suction or micro-suction to remove earwax.
Training and Certification
The team at Treat Hearing Health Care follows the College of Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists of Ontario (CASLPO) Practice Standard for Cerumen Management. Our clinicians are experienced in earwax removal and have taken several courses in cerumen management and are therefore certified to perform earwax removal.
Importantly, we use the best tools available to ensure safe removal of earwax. For example, we utilize binocular vision with both light and magnification via a head-worn microscope to safely remove earwax from the ear canal.
Overall, it’s important to have your ears checked if you suspect a potential earwax buildup and avoid DIY or unsafe earwax removal practices to maintain good ear and hearing health. If you’re experiencing any symptoms that you believe is related to earwax buildup, it’s recommended that you seek professional help immediately.
Treat Hearing Health Care is Ottawa's go-to hearing, ear, and earwax removal specialist in Ottawa. Our Chief Audiologist, Clayton Fisher, M.CI.Sc. and team can help you get to the bottom of your hearing problems and provide you with an effective solution as soon as possible.
If you’re looking for earwax removal services in Ottawa, book an appointment with our experienced team.
Call us at 613-567-3644 or book an appointment online today.