What and Why?

Your ear-drum lies three centimetres inside your skull at the bottom of a passage that takes a rather twisted course, slightly upwards and forwards from your ear-hole. The skin which lines this passage is constructed in just the same way as your skin elsewhere, with one exception. Everywhere else, spent scales from the surface of your skin are rubbed away by friction of some kind. This is not possible in your ear passage; without some means for clearing out old scales your ears would quickly become blocked with them and therefore useless.

Wax is the answer. It is formed by sebaceous glands in the skin in the outer half of your ear passage and transforms the scaly debris into a cylindrical glacier. This very slowly creeps outwards, rotating like a corkscrew. At its edge, near your ear-hole, pieces of overhanging wax break off and tickle so that your finger tip finds and removes them every few weeks or so. In this way not only scales but dust and the remains of any insect that gets in there are efficiently parcelled up and removed.

This arrangement can be unsettled in three ways. If you grope inside your ears with twists of cloth, cotton buds or hair-pins you can easily turn back the edge of the glacier to coil in on itself; you will eventually ram it down against your eardrum like the charge in a cannon. If so it gradually dries out and shrinks into a hard core, for a time making space for more wax to collect. Eventually the hard pebble fills the canal and symptoms begin. This only takes six to twelve months if no wax escapes at all.

The shape of your ear passage may frustrate the movement of your wax glacier so that it accumulates even without your help. This is a misfortune you cannot control: your diet is one you can. The character and amount of your wax is influenced by your food, being more profuse and irritant the more fat, waste acids and chemicals you unload into it from your over-burdened circulation.

Syringing out the wax with water is the time-honoured treatment, usually after softening it with warm oil. Unfortunately this does nothing to prevent the situation from occurring all over again.

What can I do?

Advice to maintain and maximise your health

1. Never reach for ear wax with anything sharper than your finger end. To have waxy ears is not dirty but evidence that your glacial cleansing mechanism is working properly. If you succeed in keeping the passage clear you are removing its accustomed protection and making inflammation or infection more likely. If you fail, wax will accumulate helplessly in the normally waxless part of your ear passages where there is no mechanism for getting rid of it.

2. Diet: A healthy diet in which flesh foods, fats and chemicals are kept low makes no demands on your ear wax as a medium of excretion. Consequently it remains non-irritant, soft, flexible and in manageable quantity.

3. Soften your ear wax: If your ears do require clearance of wax use Glycerine B.P. or Almond Oil to soften it for four or five days first; Olive Oil is quite good if you already have some, to save a special purchase. Tackle your ears one at a time, the worst affected first, to keep some useful hearing throughout.

Warm the oil in a cup of hot water for a few minutes, then lie your head on the good side and drip oil slowly into the bad ear until it fills. Maintain that position for a few minutes, then grease a twist of cotton wool with vaseline and carefully plug the ear with it. One thorough application daily at bed-time is ample.

4. The syringing will be quick and easy after this preparation and you can repeat the process for the other ear if necessary. Ask your doctor if the anatomy of your ear passages is awkward in any way (slit-shaped or unusually narrowed or tortuous) that might account for the wax blockage. If so persevere with at least one application weekly of Glycerine or Almond Oil to each ear in turn (ie each ear twice a month), to keep the wax as fluent as possible. A special purchase would in this case be worthwhile since glycerine does not cause the wax to swell and almond oil is the least irritant of those available.

5. If your ears are not shaped unusually, put into each just two drops of the softener you now have, once each week. This dose moistens your ear-drums and keeps wax soft then gradually flows outwards, which may help to establish a new glacial flow in the right direction, so breaking at source your dependence on the ear syringe. If you are blessed with an awkward shape to your ear passages, you may have occasionally to submit to syringing to keep them clear.

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