Earwax is part of your body’s de­fense sys­tem

Reader's Digest (Canada) - - Front Page - BY SA­MAN­THA RIDEOUT

WHILE IT MAY NOT be one of your body’s most at­trac­tive fea­tures, earwax (med­i­cal term: ceru­men) is part of its nat­u­ral de­fenses. Se­creted by glands in your ear canals, it cleans and pro­tects by trap­ping in­vad­ing dirt and dust and pre­vent­ing the growth of bac­te­ria.

Thanks in part to the mo­tions of chew­ing and talk­ing, older ceru­men makes its way out of the ear, where it falls out or washes away, bring­ing germs and other foreign par­ti­cles with it and mak­ing room for the fresh wax that’s been cre­ated.

Nor­mally, proper wax man­age­ment boils down to let­ting this process hap­pen nat­u­rally. If wax is vis­i­ble on your outer ear, you can gen­tly clean it with a cloth.

How­ever, you shouldn’t try to re­move it from the in­side. Don’t be tempted by cot­ton swabs, since “putting any­thing in the ear risks, at best, push­ing the wax back in or, at worst, dam­ag­ing del­i­cate skin,” says Dr. Sha­keel Saeed, a pro­fes­sor of otol­ogy and neuro-otol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Lon­don Ear In­sti­tute in the U.K. You could even per­fo­rate your eardrum or dis­lo­cate the bones of the in­ner ear.

Your ear canal may be­come ob­structed by wax if the glands in your ears pro­duce an ex­ces­sive amount (some just do), if your body

can’t man­age to clear it out ef­fec­tively or if you ac­ci­den­tally jam it in fur­ther dur­ing a mis­guided clean­ing at­tempt. Symp­toms of block­age can in­clude ear­ache, tin­ni­tus, de­creased hear­ing, dizzi­ness or even cough­ing, since the buildup can push against nerves and trig­ger the cough re­flex.

A doc­tor, who will have pro­fes­sional tools and meth­ods, can achieve re­moval far more safely than you could. An­other rea­son why it’s best to visit a GP: it may not be ceru­men that’s caus­ing your symp­toms but rather an in­fec­tion, age-re­lated hear­ing loss, an in­jury from pres­sure changes or one of many other prob­lems.

If earwax block­age is a fre­quent oc­cur­rence, your doc­tor may rec­om­mend clean­ings and the use of ear­wax­soft­en­ing drops. Com­mer­cial for­mu­las are avail­able, but min­eral oil or olive oil can also do the job. If a hear­ing aid is con­tribut­ing to your re­cur­ring prob­lem, says Saeed, you can try “re­mov­ing it sev­eral times per day for an hour or so, to see if that helps.”

Earwax con­tains at least 10 an­timi­cro­bial pep­tides that fight off bac­te­ria and fungi.

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