by Moshe Ephrat, M.D., F.A.C.S.
Cerumen, or ear wax, is a common reason for patients to be seen. Cerumen is a substance that is a mixture of secretions by glands in the ear canal, skin, as well as dust and debris. It serves a role in preventing local infection, however, when it accumulates it can cause symptoms of ear fullness, congestion, hearing loss, and tinnitus. Accumulation of ear wax is due to failure of the wax to be naturally expelled from the ear canal. Narrow ear canal, hairs, hearing aids and inappropriate "Q-tip" use can all be causes of cerumen retention. Cleaning the outer ear using cotton tip applicators will often push the wax further into the ear canal. Q-tip use may also accidentally puncture the eardrum as well as irritate the ear canal skin predisposing a person to otitis externa (outer ear infection). Removing ear wax in the office can be performed with various techniques. Syringing with warm water, using ear curettes to “hook” out the wax and using suctioning equipment are most often used at your ENT physician’s office.