The outer ear has a canal which leads to the ear drum – the tympanic membrane . The ear canal is a blind tube which is generally bent and is lined by skin. The skin of the outer part of the ear is thick and has on its surface hair, with glands which secrete an oily substance. This oily substance is normally light yellow in colour but gets oxidized to a dark brown colored substance cerumen, the common name of which is ‘ear wax’.
Nothing in our body is there by accident, and ear wax is no exception. It also has its role to play. Wax has chemicals which inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi and it has even been suggested by some that the offensive odor associated with wax repels insects. Another very important function of the wax is to keep the skin of the ear moist and lubricated.
The ear canal has a unique self cleaning mechanism whereby the shed skin of the ear and wax finds its way out. This process is slow and occurs naturally. The ear does not need assistance in this function. Attempts at cleaning the ear very often only succeeds in pushing the wax deep in the ear where it collects and eventually blocks the ear. Ears blocked with wax can cause deafness, pain and even giddiness. Ill directed attempts at cleaning the ear often damage the ear; it is surprising how many people get jostled when fiddling around with their ears. Instruments inserted into the ear vary from cotton buds and feathers to keys, hair pins and pencils; in short, anything that comes to hand and likely to fit.
To those whose sense of hygiene prompts them to clean their ears, don’t! Besides the risk of damaging the ear, the removal of wax leaves the ear canal devoid of its lubrication resulting in dry, itchy ears, which are prone to infections.
If you think you have a ‘wax problem’ visit your friendly neighborhood ENT surgeon.
Specialist & Professor
GMCH& RC AJMAN