Most cases wax eventually dries up and falls out of the ear without a person even knowing it, but in some cases it can harden and lodge itself inside the ear canal. This is called impacted wax. This seems to happen most often to those with smaller ears, as their ear canals will also be smaller and the wax will have a harder time falling out naturally.
If you have wax that has impacted in your ear, you may feel discomfort in the ear canal that feels like your ear is plugged or full. You may also have a decrease in your hearing and ear pain. Some experience ringing in the ears and even dizziness. Others may feel itching or a draining from the ear canal.
Only a doctor can determine for sure if you have impacted wax so it’s good to make an appointment if these symptoms persist. They can perform an exam with a special scope that allows them to see deep inside the ear. He or she can then see if it’s the wax that is causing these symptoms or another problem, such as a perforated eardrum.
Without treatment, impacted wax can cause inner ear infection, external ear infection, and even permanent hearing loss. In some cases it can also perforate the eardrum.
You may try earwax softening drops such as Debrox or Murine for the ear. Use these by adding a few drops into the affected ear canal while keeping your head tilted to the side. This allows the drops to settle down to the impacted wax. Once you tilt your head back up, the drops drain out along with the excess wax.
A bulb syringe is also used to wash out the ear with warm water. It’s important to use water at body temperature and to use the syringe gently, so as to avoid getting dizzy. Gently flush the ear and allow to drain completely.
Many doctors advise against ear candling, which is when a hollow cone that resembles a candle is placed inside the ear and the other end is lit. The theory is that this creates a vacuum so that the wax is gently pulled out of the ear, but studies have shown that no vacuum or pulling sensation is created and no wax is actually removed. The practice can also result in injury and burns to the face and ear.
One of the best ways to treat impacted wax is to keep it from happening in the first place. Because this happens when wax gets pushed down into the ear canal, you want to avoid putting anything into your ear such as cotton swabs or Q-tips. While some believe that these remove wax, they actually push wax into the ear canal and can cause damage. They can also be inserted too far so that there is a risk of perforating the eardrum and causing serious damage.
Remember that if you have any symptoms of impacted wax or any questions about your hearing and health of your ears, it’s good to visit a doctor immediately. You want to get an accurate diagnosis and understand your treatment options for impacted wax and other ear concerns so that you preserve your ear’s health and protect your hearing.
As a rule, having ear wax or cerumen is a good thing. It protects the sensitive lining of the auditory canal from invasive or foreign objects like water, tiny insects, sand, dust, or even bacterial and fungal infection. In very young children, a small buildup of this yellowish and waxy substance normally does not pose as a health hazard. In fact, many health care providers recommend that parents disregard these small buildups especially if the kids do not seem to be suffering from any ill-effects from the condition.
Most pediatricians and EENT (eye, ear, nose, and throat) specialists even agree that one of the most prevalent reasons children under the age of 12 have cerumen impaction (or the condition when the excessive ear wax buildup is crammed tightly into the outer ear canal,) is because parents, older relatives, or caretakers of these children had taken it upon themselves to regularly or obsessively “clear” away the waxy substance, using whatever implements that may be at hand, like q-tips or hair pins.
In order to avoid creating excessive ear wax buildup in your kids’ auditory canal, it is essential to stop “clearing” away the cerumen.
Again, the body uses this waxy substance as a line of defense against infectious diseases and foreign objects. When you “clear” out portions of these, the body immediately produces more, and then some as a way of compensating for the layers you have removed. This is an autonomic defensive mechanism that is inherent in all healthy human beings.
In short, the best way to prevent excessive ear wax buildup is to simply stop physically handling these. Never use q-tips or other “cleaning” implements in your kids’ ears.
On the other hand, in order to remove existing impacted cerumen in very young children, it would be best to ask first the recommendations of your kids’ pediatricians, or primary health care providers. Sometimes, doing this without medical counsel can do more harm than good. There is always that great danger of damaging or puncturing your kids’ eardrums which can lead to permanent hearing loss.
If your doctor says that the situation is manageable though, you can remove some (not all!) of the excess ear wax at home using drugstore remedies like liquid softeners (e.g. Murine or Debrox.) Simply follow the instructions on the box, and everything should work out fine. Also, take into account the number of times or frequency you could safely use the ear wax softeners. Excessively using these products can also cause your children discomfort and pain. You should stop using these as soon as most of the impaction is gone.
Problematic cerumen impaction is an altogether different thing. When children have this condition, they tend to visibly suffer from discomfort.
Of course, older children would be able to complain about the incessant ringing sensations in their ears. They could also complain about being dizzy or nauseous most of the time, or that one or both of their ears seem to feel “full” or “plugged” – a sensation that is often characterized as having muffled hearing. Some may even complain about sharp, stabbing pains within the ear canal itself.
This condition is more difficult to ascertain with toddlers or children who still cannot articulate their feelings. However, some of the more common signs of problematic cerumen impaction that you should watch out for are:
In extreme cases, very young children may even develop high fever, may suffer from constant bouts of vomiting, and may start excreting yellowish and sour smelling fluids from one or both ears.
This is already considered as a medical emergency that would necessitate procedural intervention. Otherwise, this might lead to permanent hearing impairment or hearing loss. If your children seem to be suffering from one or more of these symptoms, you need to take them to the hospital ASAP. Do not remove the impaction yourself.
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