How Ear Cleaning Benefits Your Hearing
Maintaining a healthy ear canal can be trickier than you think. Earwax is produced for a reason, but as with everything, too much of a good thing can cause problems. But when cleaning your ears it’s important to hit that sweet spot where you don’t strip away protective waxes and oils but you stop the ear canal becoming bunged up.
To understand why this balance is so important and how to achieve it, let’s first look at the wonder that is earwax.
Why earwax is important
The proper word for humble earwax is ‘cerumen’. It is produced by glands in the skin that lines the ear canal, and plays several important roles such as:
- Moisturizing the delicate skin of the ear canal
- Providing a waterproof barrier
- Protecting the ear against infection
- Removing dust and debris
The yellow substance we associate with earwax is the matrix that supports an antibacterial enzyme called lysozyme, plus fatty acids, cholesterol, alcohol and squalene. All of these combine to maintain the health of the ear canal.
Earwax promotes healthy hearing by trapping bacteria, dust and irritants. A slow moving mechanism within the ear canal shifts this trapped debris upwards, ejecting it at the opening to the ear. In addition, earwax contains enzymes that kill bacteria to help stop them setting up infection, and it also moisturizes the skin, protecting it from drying out, which again maintains good health.
All of this means that over enthusiastic cleaning can rob the ear of a valuable resource and make ear infections more likely, rather than less.
What about excessive earwax?
If earwax is so wonderful, should we ever clean our ears?
Some people produce too much earwax, which clogs the ear canal and stops it functioning. In addition, others produce earwax that is too dry, which makes it more stubborn to shift upward and prone to blocking the ear canal. And last but not least, the widespread use of earbud headphones put a literal plug in the ear, meaning wax can’t escape and tends to build up.
The answer is to find the right balance and clean your ears, but not too often or with harsh products.
Finding the right ear cleaning routine
A buildup of earwax is like wearing earplugs and can dull your hearing. Alternatively some people experience intense itching deep inside the ear canal. When done correctly home ear cleaning is safe and effective, but if you have pain, or are in doubt, then always check with your audiologist.
Cleaning is best done using ear drops that gently dissolve excess wax and allow it to exit naturally from the ear canal. There are a wide range of products available from your pharmacy or audiologist, or you can even use a few drops of mineral or baby oil, applied daily for several days.