Spring has finally arrived! This is the time that I get to enjoy the sound of birds singing - one of my favourite signs of spring. We all have different sounds we enjoy, whether it's music, nature or ...
Spring has finally arrived! This is the time that I get to enjoy the sound of birds singing – one of my favourite signs of spring. We all have different sounds we enjoy, whether it’s music, nature or a motor humming evenly under the hood; it’s clear that the sense of hearing adds a lot of enjoyment to our lives.
Our ears are important to us, so we should take good care of them. Ears are made up of three different parts: the outer ear (the part you can see in to the eardrum); the middle ear (the part that is separated from the outer ear by the eardrum and that contains the tiny bones that amplify sound waves); and the inner ear (the part that translates sound waves into electrical impulses to send to the brain).
How should you care for the outer ear? Well, maintaining the exposed part is simple. Just protect it from the sun in the summer and the cold in the winter and also keep it clean. Ideally, caring for the ear canal is just as straightforward. Simply protect it from drafts and leave it to clean itself.
Your ear canal is wonderfully low-maintenance because it produces ear wax (cerumen) as its own cleaning agent, which is secreted in the outer third of the ear canal. The ear wax’s lubricating and antibacterial properties help keep your ear canal soft, pliable and germ-free. It also keeps dust and dirt from entering your canal while carrying dirt and dead cells out.
Every time you chew, the movement of your jaw causes ear wax to travel out from the eardrum, along the walls of the canal towards the outer ear. Then, this dirty ear wax usually dries, flakes, and falls out, making it easy to manage.
However, your ears may need some extra help if you have the following symptoms: your ear aches, or you feel that it’s plugged; your hearing gets progressively worse; you have tinnitus, a ringing or noises in your ear; you experience itching, odor or a discharge; you feel dizzy; or you start coughing, triggered by a sensation in your ears. These may indicate that you have a blockage of ear wax.
Ear wax blockages happen for a variety of reasons. Some people are just naturally more prone to them. Their bodies may produce a lot of ear wax. Their ear canals may be unusually narrow or hairy. They may work in particularly dirty or dusty environments. They may have inflammatory conditions of the skin or scalp that cause extreme sloughing of skin cells.
Other blockages occur because people are improperly trying to get their ear wax out. These common tools used to clean the ear canal often cause blockages: cotton-tipped swabs, bobby pins, bent paper clips, or twisted tissues.
Earplugs and hearing aids are also common causes.
Unfortunately, these items usually just push the wax in deeper, making removal more difficult. More seriously, using these tools roughly could damage the delicate ear tissues, leading to permanent hearing loss.
The recommended way to clean your ear is to wash the outer ear with a warm, wet cloth, but inserting nothing into the actual ear canal. To get rid of a wax blockage, there are a number of home treatments you could try.
Soften the wax by putting a few drops of body temperature mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin or commercial ear drops in your ear. (If you’re prone to wax build-up, use these drops once a week to keep the wax moving).
Or, use detergent drops (hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide) to bubble the wax up to the outer ear. Be careful though, peroxide tends to dry the surfaces it touches, so use this method sparingly. Ensure the drops reach the deeper parts of your ear canal, by lying on your side and waiting until gravity draws the drops deep into the canal.
You could also have your ear canal syringed by a doctor using body temperature water or saline. This irrigation method should not be used if you have diabetes, a tube or hole in your eardrum or, a weakened immune system as there is some risk of infection.
Occasionally, an ear specialist has to manually remove the impacted wax using suction and special instruments, especially if the ear canal is particularly narrow or other methods haven’t worked.
No matter what method you used, make sure that your ear gets dried thoroughly after the wax is gone.
To do this, you could put a few drops of alcohol in the ear and let them evaporate, or you could blow warm air into the ear canal with a hair dryer set on low until all the moisture is gone.
The old saying: “Don’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ears,” is still good advice to follow. Hear, hear!
– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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