Earwax is troubling, irritating right? The medical term for it is Cerumen. It gets it’s name from the waxy, sticky texture but it is not any kind of wax. It is formed from a hearty dose of sebum which is a body secretion made up mostly of fat, skin cells, sweat and dirt. It is produced by the ear to clean and protect itself. It is secreted by glands in the skin which line the outer half of the ear canals. The wax and small hair in these passages trap dust and other foreign particles which could damage deeper structures like the eardrum.
People with too little earwax can experience itchy ears which are prone to infection but an ear canal blocked up with earwax can cause earaches, mild deafness, a sensation of fullness in the ear, tinnitus, infections and related problems.
There are two kinds of earwax, wet and dry. Wet earwax is more common in the Caucasian and African people and is typically dark yellow and sticky. In the people from East Asia and America ear wax is typically light-colored, dry and flaky.
The consistency of the earwax depends on the environment and diet. One can get darker wax on working in a dirty environment. The wax that has been in the ear longer will be darker because it has trapped more dirt.
It’s recommended to not stick anything sharp into ears to remove ear wax. It’s dangerous to stick cotton buds, paper clips, bobby pins or anything similar and sharp in the ears because it increases the wax buildup as more of it is pushed inside the ear canals.
Earwax is a common cause of hearing problems. It can cause problems for our hearing as it starts to build up in the ears in a process known as Impaction.
The symptoms of impacted earwax are hearing loss, earache, sense of ear fullness, itchiness in ear, dizziness, ringing in ear and cough.
How to clean the inner ear properly
One does not need to clean the inner ears. Ears are self-cleaning and earwax works out naturally with time and it can be cleaned with a damp cloth. Ear drops must be used to loosen the ear wax and then the wax must be taken out from the inner ear.
There are many ways to remove excess earwax from the ears. Using ear drops is one of the easy and effective ways to do so. And many commercially available ear drops contain hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide surely helps to remove excess earwax but using too much of it can irritate the skin inside of the ears leading to other issues.
Why put hydrogen peroxide in the ear?
Hydrogen peroxide is a cerumenolytic solution that softens and dissolves earwax. Generally the ears produce enough earwax to protect and clean the ear canal. There are specialized glands called Ceruminous glands which secrete fats and acidic substances that protect the ear from infections. These secretions trap dead skin cells, dust and dirt inside the ear. This mixture makes the waxy material commonly known as earwax. Normally earwax gets pushed out of the ear canal when a person moves their lower jaw while speaking or eating. But earwax can accumulate if the natural cleaning process fails.
Certain factors that can cause excess earwax accumulation are:-
1.Wearing hearing aids.
2.Wearing in-ear headphones.
3.Cleaning the ear with cotton buds.
4.Structural abnormalities of the ear canal.
The accumulation of excess earwax building up in the ear can form a plug, leading to a condition called Cerumen Impaction. It affects around 6% of the general population and more than 30% of older adults.
Excessive earwax and cerumen impaction can lead to problems like:-
- Hearing difficulties
- Tinnitus or ringing in the ear
- A feeling of fullness in the ear
- Ear infection
- Ear drainage
Ear drops can contain different types of hydrogen peroxide that soften earwax.
Carbamide peroxide is one of the most common form of hydrogen peroxide ear drops. These drops release oxygen in the earwax making it bubble. The addition of oxygen loosens the plug making the process of removing it easier. Generally, hydrogen peroxide is safer to use if done so properly. Most of the over-the-counters(OTC) hydrogen peroxide solutions have purified water and 3% of hydrogen peroxide. OTC ear drops have 6.5% carbamide peroxide.Though hydrogen peroxide is generally safer at low concentrations but some people may experience some side effects like:-
1.Temporary fizzing or bubbling sensation.
3.Temporary pain in the ear
4.Temporary hearing loss
Hydrogen peroxide can result in residual bubbling inside the ear canal because of which doctors may have difficulty examining the inner ear. It can also cause skin irritation along with blistering. And can also cause burns with concentration of 10% and more. The excessive use of hydrogen peroxide can irritate the skin inside of the ears leading to inflammation and earaches. So these drops must not be used in case of ear infection or damaged eardrum.
People should always follow the instructions of the manufacturer or a doctor when using ear drops. One should not put more than 10 drops in the ear at one time. It is advisable to put 5-10 drops in each ear twice daily for up to 4 days. The excess hydrogen peroxide and earwax can be flushed out with warm water or a bulb syringe. A person should consult a doctor on experiencing ear discomfort or pain or if the given drops do not improve the symptoms.
Alternative to hydrogen peroxide
Sometimes hydrogen peroxide ear drops may not remove earwax if used alone. Then an alternative to it may be considering rinsing the ear with an ear syringe. These ear syringes can be found at local drugstores or via online retailers. But before using them the instructions printed must be followed on the product label.
Some other alternatives to hydrogen peroxide are:-
- Acetic acid
- Docusate sodium
- Sodium bicarbonate
- Ear drop having camphor, almond, mineral oils
The eardrops must be placed in the affected ear twice per day for 2-3 days. It will help to loosen the earwax. Fill a bulb syringe with lukewarm water or a water and saline mixture. Place the tip of the syringe near the ear opening and gently squeeze the bulb of the syringe. It will force the water inside the bulb into the ear. Turn head to the side to remove excess water and wax from the ear. One can do ear irrigation over a sink or bathtub.
The wax should not be removed with a foreign object like cotton swabs, pens, or paper clips.
Time to contact a doctor
A person may want to contact a doctor if the excess earwax causes-
Hydrogen peroxide is a common ingredient in over-the-counter ear drops. It is a cerumenolytic solution that softens and dissolves earwax. But it’s excessive usage can be damaging to the ears. So it should always be used in mild amounts for best results.