Guidelines for dealing with earwax

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
August 29, 2008 3:51:24 PM PDT
It's sort of a sticky subject and something you don't often talk about. But now, there are new guidelines on dealing with earwax. Ten-year-old Joseph Tapia went to the doctor because he had problems with his hearing.

"My mom was calling me for dinner and I didn't hear one word she said," he said. "And I said, 'Mom, are you calling me?' And she said come to dinner and I said OK."

Joe's problem was nothing more than earwax, which doctors sometimes call cerumen.

It is a combination of oil gland secretions and skin cells that normally lubricates and protects the outer ear. Sometimes it can build up and block the ear canal.

Because people can damage their ears trying to remove wax, Dr. Richard Rosenfeld and other experts drew up some guidelines for wax removal only if there are symptoms.

"The symptoms most common are fullness, pain, discomfort, hearing loss, odor and discharge," Dr. Rosenfeld said.

Doctors say do not use cotton tip swabs, which can push the wax in further or damage the eardrum. And there's another thing to avoid avoid.

"Oral irrigators are sometimes used at home," Dr. Rosenfeld said. "The so-called Water Pik...can damage the ear and the force of the water can rupture the eardrum at times."

Most times, earwax is normal and you don't have to do anything to remove it. For most people, simply moving the jaw by chewing and talking is enough to allow wax to fall out by itself.

Wax is generally soft and easy to remove, but you don't always have to go to the doctor to do it. There are some over-the-counter products for use at home that may soften wax and flush it out.

Also, wax really isn't waxy. It dissolves in water, so plain tap water or saline salt water works very well to flush out wax without your spending money on expensive products.

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STORY BY: Medical reporter Dr. Jay Adlersberg

WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King

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