A Sticky Situation!

Did you know that an Audiologist can assist you with your auditory health in more ways than amplification? A vast number of Audiologists, along with physicians and other healthcare professionals, have the training and ability to assess and manage the wax produced within your ear canals. You may be surprised to know that ear wax, also called cerumen, is actually a natural and healthy substance within our ear canals. What exactly is cerumen? Cerumen, or wax, is a “combination of secretions from the cerumenous or aprocrine glands and sebaceous glands” within the ear canal (Purdy 2002). These secretions that come from the glands within the canal actually serve a functional purpose, and are not there simply to become bothersome and another issue to be managed within your body. Cerumen acts as a defense mechanism for the canal–it protects the tympanic membrane, or ear drum, from environmental hazards such as dust, debris, and even small insects. Cerumen also acts as a lubricant that is water repellant and an anti-bacterial/anti-fungal agent that provides protection for the tympanic membrane.

Most people have a normal amount of cerumen that is produced within the canal and naturally migrates out of the ear through a process known as epithelial migration. Epithelial migration is the process through which the cerumen slowly migrates from the proximal portion of the ear canal (on or within proximity to the ear drum), and out of the canal towards your outer ear. This is a natural process that occurs in most individuals, allowing the ear to organically ‘clean’ itself. However, you may need additional assistance if you are one that produces an over production of ear wax. This is the point where the services of an Audiologist may become helpful in cerumen management. In 2011, Audiology Online’s Cindy Beyer, Au.D., reported that in the United States alone, approximately 150,000 ears are managed for cerumen removal weekly! That is a staggering 30,000 ears per day in any given 5 day work week. This is such a common condition that can be easily managed!

The cerumen management process begins with your hearing health provider inspecting your ear canals using a visualization process known as Otoscopy. Using a handheld Otoscope allows the ear canal to be fully viewed under clear light and magnification. This method is used in most, if not all, medical facilities to assess your ear canal. Additional alternative forms of visualization are possible through the use of an electric headlight or headlamp, or even a full free-standing surgical or operating microscope. Video Otoscopy, which is often used as a teaching tool, uses a camera attached to an otoscope allowing the visualization to be projected onto a television or computer monitor so what is seen within the ear canal and on the tympanic membrane can be pointed out to the patient. The different available forms or methods of visualizing your ear canal are used regularly, individually or altogether, to assess the canal health as specifically as necessary.

Once the canal health has been assessed and is known to have an excessive amount of cerumen, a specific treatment option will be utilized. As Audiologists, we have a variety of removal options that are appropriate and safe. These methods can be, but are not limited to, the use of sterile curettes, alligator forceps, vacuum suction, irrigation and cerumen softener in conjunction with any of the aforementioned devices. The method of removal is determined by your Audiologist based specifically on your ear canal health and sensitivity.

Now that you are have learned about wax removal, you may ask why? Why is the Audiologist requesting to remove wax from my ear? Why is it necessary to remove it if the wax is a healthy process and function of my body? If you are having an audiological evaluation or an ear mold impression made, it is important to have the wax removed prior to the service for the accuracy of the hearing evaluation as well as for the accuracy of the size and shape of the ear canal.

It is our responsibility to expedite your appointment and treat you with appropriate options. The Audiologists at ACA are all highly trained in cerumen management, and can be seen at any of our six office locations. We are happy to see you, or anyone you may know who has had difficulty with excessive wax. Please contact us if you have any further questions regarding your hearing health.

References

Beyer, C. (2011) Practical Tips for Cerumen Removal. Audiology Online. Found on 12/9/13 from: http://www.audiologyonline.com/ask-the-experts/practical-tips-for-cerumen-removal-45

Purdy, J. (2002) Managing Cerumen. Audiology Online. Found on 12/9/2013 from:

http://www.audiologyonline.com/articles/managing-cerumen-1159

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