01 September 2008

Cerumen Guidelines

Cerumen is the scientific term. The common term is earwax. In Tagalog, we usually call it tutuli or antutuli.

When I wrote Cottonbud Addiction years ago, my objective was to bring attention to a common habit of most people I know, and why cleaning ears too often can prove to be more of a problem than a simple cleaning task.

Two days ago, the American Academy of Otolaryngology issued guidelines on removing earwax. Among the highlights are:
  • Cerumen is a beneficial, self-cleaning agent, with protective, lubricating (emollient), and antibacterial properties.
  • Clinicians should examine patients with hearing aids for cerumen impaction because it may cause feedback, reduce sound intensity, or damage the hearing aid.
  • Cerumen may cause reversible hearing loss when it blocks 80 percent or more of the ear canal diameter.
  • Appropriate options for cerumen impaction are (1) cerumenolytic (wax-dissolving) agents, which include water, saline, and other agents of comparable efficacy, (2) irrigation or ear syringing, which is most effective when a cerumenolytic is instilled 15-30 minutes prior, and (3) manual removal with special instruments or a suction device, which is preferred for patients with narrow ear canals, eardrum perforation or tube, or immune deficiency.
  • Inappropriate or harmful interventions are cotton-tipped swabs, oral jet irrigators, and ear candling.
  • Clinicians should assess patients at the conclusion of in-office treatment for cerumen impaction and document resolution of the impaction.
  • There are no proven ways to prevent cerumen impaction, but not inserting cotton-tipped swabs or other objects in the ear canal is strongly advised; individuals at high risk (e.g., hearing aid users) should consider seeing a clinician every 6-12 months for routine cleaning.

I know how pleasurable it is to clean one's ears too often; I used to do that, too. But I tried my best to avoid it. I now clean my ears once a week, even lesser if I can avoid it. Why? Because the more we clean it (using cottonbuds or any other instrument), the more we push some of the earwax inside. Soon, the earwax accumulates, and results in a condition called cerumen impaction. Simply put, that means accumulated earwax blocking the ear canals. In time, this can cause significant hearing loss, and a consultation with an ear doctor (otolaryngologist or ENT) is necessary to have the blockage removed.

Try your best not to disturb your earwax. If ever you really want it removed, have your ENT doctor do it for you. There's some fee involved, of course, but you can be sure that you won't be in danger of causing harm to your ears.

More FAQ on earwax here.
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