Is Ear Wax Hindering Your Hearing?

21st, August 2014

Hearing Aid Audiologist Lindsay Gillespie tells us about how Ear Wax, despite being a natural secretion of the ears, can in some cases actually cause a loss of hearing.

Is Ear Wax Hindering Your Hearing?  Hearing Aid Audiologist Lindsay Gillespie talks to us about how Ear Wax, despite being a natural secretion of the ears, can in some cases actually cause a loss of hearing. 

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There are two main issues with ear wax. Some of us make large amounts of the stuff while other people have ear-shapes which prevent the easy and natural removal of the wax. If you have both of these problems you will probably need some help to get rid of the wax.

Wax softening agents – know as cerumenolytics – can sometimes help to break up large wax accumulations. However they also contain other chemicals which can irritate the ear canal. I would recommend the regular use of Olive Oil to soften ear wax. Used once or twice a week before going to bed, followed the next morning with clean water from your shower, can help to keep it under control. 

Cotton buds are not recommended for the removal of wax. Although some wax can be seen on the bud when used, it is probable that you will push more wax further down the ear canal and then it will be difficult to remove this without suction or irrigation. 

Suction of ear wax is normally only done within a Hospital environment. An ENT doctor or experienced audiologist will use a clinical microscope to view the ear canal and at the same time use a small suction probe to draw the wax out of the ear canal. This method of removal is normally used for patients who have had previous ear surgery or cannot have the ear irrigated because of the risk of ear infection. Patients who have a hole or perforation in the ear drum should always have wax removed by this method. 

Water irrigation of the ear – syringing as it used to be called – can be used for the majority of patients who need wax removed. The wax is pretreated with olive oil before a fine jet of water is used to flush the wax from the ear canal. At Optique we will also use instruments to lift larger or more stubborn wax blockages from the ear canal. 

We do not recommend that patients attempt self-irrigation of the ear canals – except by using water from a normal shower head. With self cleaning kits there is no control over the water pressure and damage to the ear drum is possible. 

Things you didn't know about ear wax:

1. Where does it come from?

The cells inside the ear canal are unique in that they migrate, If this didn't happen the ear canal would soon fill up with dead cells as the skin sheds. This migration also moves the wax produced in modified sweat glands which line the ear canal. 

2. Ear wax has anti-microbial properties

Ear wax contains waxy oils but the majority of it is made of dead skin cells. 

Between 1,000 to 2,000 glands produce anti-microbial peptides. Sebaceous glands close to hair cells add into the mix alcohols, squalene (an oily substance), cholesterol and triglyceride.

Cerumen also contains lysozyme, an antibacterial enzyme capable of destroying bacterial cell walls.

3. It matters where you're from

Asian and non-Asian ears produce different types of earwax. Chromosome 16 is home to the wet or dry gene for earwax with the wet variant dominating. 

4. It can be a pollution monitor

Earwax, like many other bodily secretions, can hold traces of toxins in the body such as heavy metals. It may seem like a strange place to look and is no more reliable than a simple blood test. 

The ear wax clinic is open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at Optique Eye & Ear Care. To book an appointment, please call 028 9066 7030 or email

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