Friday, September 26, 2008

Is Earwax Your Friend? Ask Dr. Joseph Mercola

Are you tired of stubborn earwax clogging your ears? You are not alone because around 12 million Americans visit the doctor every year because of excessive earwax. But before you go get some Q-tips, you might be surprised to know that earwax is better left alone.

Dr. Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic physician and natural health expert, provides information and practical tips relevant to your health, from something as mundane as cleaning earwax to more serious concerns like proper diet and nutrition.

An Unlikely Friend

Earwax, or cerumen, as it is known in the medicine world, is formed in the outer one-third of the ear canal and is produced by the body to block dust and other small particles and prevent them from reaching the eardrum. Earwax naturally emerges out of the ear, expelling the trapped dirt along with it. However, wax buildup caused by overzealously cleaning the ears with cotton swabs, or using earplugs and headphones for long periods of time, pushes the earwax back, causing:

  • Pain and pressure
  • Itchiness
  • Foul odor
  • Ear discharge and,
  • Hearing problems

The American Academy of Otaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAO-HNSF) has issued the national guidelines to help clinicians handle earwax problems. While the AAO-HNSF advises that earwax should be left alone because it is essentially a good thing, you should remove excess earwax if you experience these symptoms:

  • Earache
  • Partial or progressive hearing loss
  • Ringing or noise in your ears
  • Itching, odors or discharge
  • Coughing
  • A feeling or sensation that your ear is plugged

Wax Management

It’s easy to deal with earwax at home. You can use either water, oil or ear drops to soften the earwax and help it emerge. Ear irrigation is also an option. You can safely use coconut oil, hydrogen peroxide, carbamide peroxide and olive oil for this purpose. However, ear irrigation is not an alternative if you have diabetes, a weak immune system, or a perforated eardrum.

If you are suffering from severe earwax impaction, irrigation using a syringe or manual removal can be done by a health professional.

As always, prevention is still the key to avoiding earwax problems. The new AAO-HNSF guidelines warn against using cotton swabs or other probing objects, oral jet irrigators and ear candles, as these may do you more harm than good.

Dr. Mercola advises the regular intake of Omega-3 supplements, such as krill oil, to prevent the excess buildup of earwax. After clearing out impacted earwax, getting sufficient amounts of Omega-3 in your diet usually prevents a recurrence.

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