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The main culprit to hearing loss among seniors is presbycusis — hearing loss due to aging — but more and more hearing care specialists and providers are meeting patients who experience hearing loss due to earwax buildup. Earwax is one of the most common causes of conductive hearing loss, blockage to the inner ear canal. Luckily for you and your loved ones, it is the most treatable. Read on to learn about the function of earwax, how excessive buildup can lead to hearing loss, and the best steps in addressing the problems.
Earwax is Actually Useful to our Bodies
When you think of earwax, you generally are turned off by that nasty, oily, greasy substance lying on the inner canals of your ear. You might even want to get rid of it as much as you can. But before you do, understand that it plays an important function in protecting our ears.
Cerumen, as earwax is scientifically known, naturally forms in our ears as a barrier in stopping dust, debris, or dirt from entering the deep, often sensitive parts of your ear. Earwax also plays a role as moisturizer for one’s outer ear, preventing any dryness, irritation, or infection. It also protects any type of bugs or critters from entering your inner ear as the smell of earwax is odious to bugs.
Our ears are designed to clean themselves. Once the earwax accumulates too much dirt or dry skin, it naturally detaches from the sides of our ears. Chewing or moving your jaw also helps loosen the earwax to the outer parts where it eventually falls out or is washed away when we shower. In some instances, though, certain people’s ears may produce excess wax that could lead to conductive hearing loss.
Impaction: When Earwax Builds Up in Your Ear
According to Jackie Clark, president of the American Academy of Audiology, excessive amounts of earwax buildup could lead to hearing loss. Earwax buildup or impaction may cause more than just the inability to hear clearly. Other symptoms include earaches, a feeling of fullness or clogging in the ear, or even tinnitus — the ringing or buzzing noise in the ear. If excessive earwax is not removed, this could lead to infection, severe pain, drainage from the ear, or fever-like symptoms.
Earwax impaction is particularly common among seniors, although it can impact people of all ages. Studies have shown that nearly thirty percent of elderly people face earwax buildup to the point where it can completely block the canal. Of the 2.2 million people who live in U.S. assisted living facilities or nursing homes, nearly two-thirds of them suffer from this condition.
A study conducted in Japan in 2014 researched the effect of cerumen impaction on hearing and cognitive functions in elderly Japanese patients. The findings revealed significant improvements in hearing and cognitive performance in these patients once the impacted earwax was removed.
Safely Removing Earwax Buildup
We have been consistently told that cotton swabs, or Q-Tips, are the best products to use to clean our ears and to remove earwax, but, that is actually the last thing you should be doing. These types of objects could actually damage your hearing. Cotton swabs or any small foreign objects that could fit in our ears actually push earwax further back into the canal, leading to further obstruction in hearing. The best way to care for your ears is to let them clean themselves.
If you experience earwax buildup that may cause a hearing loss, the good news is that cerumen impaction can be easily treated by a hearing specialist. Professionals can identify if there is earwax buildup or not using an otoscope, a device that allows them to look deep inside the ear. If there is buildup, application of commercial ear drops or saline, or usage of either syringe or curette is the safest option for removal.
Visit us at Kenwood Hearing Centers
Setting up an appointment with a licensed hearing healthcare professional is the best option towards regaining hearing and improving cognitive health. Contact us at Kenwood Hearing Centers for a hearing assessment or test, and we’ll help be able to address any hearing issues you may have!