When it comes to ear hygiene, both the biggest hero and the biggest villain is ear wax. This sticky substance that healthy ears naturally produce is extremely helpful in trapping debris, repelling water, resisting infection and preventing insects and other undesirables from entering the ear canal. Ear wax is made up of oils and perspiration produced by glands in the ear canal, which become entwined with skin flakes and hair as it moves out of the ear canal. In a perfect world our ears are self-cleaning, and wax should slowly move towards the opening of the ear, where most of it either gets washed away or flakes off. However, sometimes this isnt the case, and where ear wax becomes impacted or blocks the ear canal it can cause infection and hearing loss.
Wax is likely to become impacted if it is pushed deeper into the ear canal by any foreign body. Unfortunately, usually the most common culprit for impacting wax are the implements used to try and remove wax from the ear- cotton buds. Although commonly referred to as ear buds, cotton buds only serve to push wax deeper into the ear, increased the chance of impaction. They also stimulate the walls of the ear canal to produce more wax than the ear would normally create. And, of course, there is always the chance that a surprise bump causes the ear bud to damage the ear drum or middle and inner ear structures. Also, dont be fooled by the promises of ear candles- in the long run the risk is too high to warrant the convenience of removing wax yourself. Wax should only be removed by a trained professional- it is not a DIY job.
There are certain strategies that can be used to try and reduce the build-up of wax in the ear and encourage the natural migration of wax out of the ear canal. Certain ear drops or oils can be used at night to soften wax, but these should only be used when advised by a doctor, especially if you have a history of ear infections. Its a good idea to wipe the outer part of the ear with a damp facecloth or towel to help the wax on its way out, but make sure not to go into the ear canal. Also make sure that anything that you are regularly inserting into your ear, be it a hearing aid or music earphones, are keep clean and regularly disinfected.
The other common complaint that we receive is that of itchy ears. There are so many reasons that our ears may become itchy, but it is vital that we dont try to scratch them inside, especially not with a paperclip, a hair pin, or any other creative ear-scratcher! The skin of the ear canal and eardrum is fragile and easily injured. Any prodding, poking or scratching may cause pain, bleeding or infection.
Itching in the ear can be caused by any foreign object in the ear, even a hair or dust. It can also be caused by the absence of ear wax, as the ear becomes dry. Often people used ear buds to address the itch, which only serves to further dry out the ear canal and cause more itchiness. Although dryness is a common cause of itchiness, the opposite also irritates the ear- having water trapped in the ear is a warm, dark, moist breeding ground for all kinds of bacteria. If you are battling with an itchy ear, it might be best to keep water out of the ear using an ear plug or avoiding swimming.
Of course, medical conditions like sinusitis, hay fever or allergies can also cause itchiness. This should be managed by your medical practitioner who may prescribe an eardrop, a sinus spray or antihistamines. You can also develop skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis, or psoriasis in the ear canal just as you would on other parts of your body. Again, these should be treated by a medical professional, ideally an Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist, who may prescribe some kind of cream or drops.
If you wear hearing aids and your ears feel itchy, it may be as a result of an ill-fitting aid or a sign that you require an alternative strategy to clean and maintain your hearing aids. This would be a good thing to visit your audiologist about. It is common to experience some itchiness as your ears adjust to having hearing aids in everyday, so always remember to wipe your hearing aids every day when you remove them and place the aids in a drying container. It may help to give the ears a days break to see if the itchiness gets better. If you are still battling there are certain creams that can help to relieve the itchiness- its best to ask your audiologist or ENT for advice on the best cream for you. Just always make sure not to get any cream onto the working parts of the hearing aids- its best to apply it at night once you have removed them.
Copyright: Francis Slabber & Associates 2017