Many patients overdo the cleaning of the ears. This can cause problems as our ears are generally self-cleaning. The outer 2/3 of the ear canals have wax producing function, and also are able to gently beat wax out over 1 to 2 weeks on its own. It is normal to see wax in the ear canals; in fact, wax is protective, just like oil protects our skin.
When we dig with cotton buds vigorously, or use wooden, plastic or metal ear diggers indiscriminately, it is akin to stripping the top layers of protective skin. Patients may have tortuous ear canals that do not tolerate a straight stick, and ear canal injury is possible. There is also a risk of ear drum perforation if the stick goes too deep. Low-grade infection can set in, cause itch and produce discharge. This clogs the ear canal and induces even more digging unfortunately.
Some patients, however, over-produce wax that causes wax impaction of the ear canals, resulting in blocked sensations and occasionally reduced hearing. Wax impaction sometimes swell suddenly after a swim or shower, and can cause discomfort. The use of ear phones or certain hearing aids may also push wax deeper into the ear canals. Yet others have rarer conditions like keratosis obturans, where abnormal skin and debri collects in the ear canal over time, and can cause erosive expansion of the ear canals.
For these cases, the Ear Doctor can use microscopic instruments to gently clean the wax, under light microscopy magnification and visualisation for optimal safety and comfort. Even young children or babies can have their ears safely cleaned.
Over-the-counter ear cleaning drops can be tried if the wax is of small amount. For cases where there is more wax, the cleaning drops may worsen the blockage. Ear candling can be dangerous, and we have seen burns of the ear canals and ear drums from candling.