Why Do We Have Earwax (Cerumen) in Our Ears?

Cerumen is a word derived from the Latin word cera, or wax.  It is perfectly normal to have cerumen in the ear canal.  The cerumen serves to trap small particles that may try to enter the ear canal.  Cerumen also contains acid that helps fight off infection and it also helps keep the canal from becoming too dry.  In some patients, the cerumen does not move out of the ear properly because of overproduction or drying of the wax, or because of narrow canals, or excessive hair.   Cleaning the ears with cotton swabs may push the cerumen deeper into the canal.  If you are concerned about excessive cerumen, please contact your primary care physician.  Wax removal kits are available from your audiologist or most drug stores.  Most kits include drops and a baby syringe to flush the ear after the drops have remained in the ear for about thirty minutes.  Too many people insert the drops but never flush the ear.

The first thing the audiologist should do before conducting a hearing test is to look in the ears to make sure the ear canals are not occluded with cerumen.  Cerumen can often plug the sound outlets on hearing aids.  It is important that patients wearing aids check their hearing aids each time they remove them to make sure they are not plugged with cerumen.  Most new hearing aids come with wax filters in the receiver tube that can easily be changed by the patient when the filters become plugged.

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