Earwax, what is it and why?

Earwax, known as Cerumen, is a yellowish waxy secretion in the ear canal of humans and other mammals. The skin of the outer part of the canal has special glands that produce earwax. It provides protection for the skin of the human ear canal, assists in cleaning and lubrication, and also provides some protection against bacteria, fungi, insects and water.

Some people are prone to produce too much earwax. Still, excess wax doesn’t automatically lead to blockage. In fact, the most common cause of earwax blockage is at-home removal. Using cotton swabs, bobby pins, or other objects in your ear canal can also push wax deeper, creating a blockage. If the wax is very soft and you gently rotate the Q tip when inserting it, you might be successful. But, if the wax is hard, you probably will just push it in deeper. Some Doctors use hydrogen peroxide to soften hard wax to make the removal easier.

You’re also more likely to have wax buildup if you frequently use earphones, which can inadvertently prevent earwax from coming out of the ear canals and cause blockages.

The appearance of earwax varies from light yellow to dark brown. Darker colors do not necessarily indicate that there is a blockage.

Signs of earwax buildup include:

  • sudden or partial hearing loss, which is usually temporary
  • tinnitus, which is a ringing, hissing or buzzing in the ear
  • a feeling of fullness in the ear
  • earache (can also be caused by a middle ear infection)

Un-removed (impacted) earwax buildup can lead to infection. Contact your doctor if you experience the symptoms of infection, such as:

  • severe pain in your ear
  • pain in your ear that does not go away
  • drainage from your ear canal
  • fever
  • coughing
  • persistent hearing loss
  • an unusual foul odor coming from your ear (not earwax oder)
  • dizziness

It’s important to note that hearing loss, dizziness, and earaches also have many other causes. You should see your doctor if any of these symptoms are frequent. A full medical evaluation can help determine whether the problem is due to excess earwax or another health issue entirely.

Earwax in Children

Children, like adults, naturally produce earwax. While it may be tempting to remove the wax, doing so might damage your child’s ears.

If you suspect your child has earwax buildup or a blockage, it’s best to see a pediatrician. Your child’s doctor may also notice excess wax during regular ear exams and remove it as needed. Also, if you notice your child sticking their finger or other objects in their ear out of irritation, you might want to ask their doctor to check their ears for wax buildup.

Check with your healthcare professional before trying to use these products.

Earwax in Older Adults

Earwax can also be a problem in older adults. Some adults may let wax buildup go until it gets to the point where hearing is obstructed. In fact, most cases of conductive hearing loss in older adults is caused by earwax buildup. This makes sounds seem muffled. Hearing aid use can also contribute to a wax blockage. Cleaning the ear tip/ear mold daily can help to prevent the build-up.

Softening hard Earwax

To soften earwax, you can purchase over-the-counter drops made specifically for that purpose. You can use the following substances:

  • mineral oil
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • carbamide peroxide
  • baby oil
  • glycerin

Ear Irrigation

Another way to remove earwax buildup is by irrigating the ear. You should never attempt to irrigate your ear if you have an ear injury, a perforated ear drum, or have had a medical procedure done on your ear. Irrigation of a ruptured eardrum could cause hearing loss or infection.

Never use products that were made for irrigating your mouth or teeth. They produce more force than your eardrum can safely tolerate.

To properly irrigate your ear, follow the directions provided with an over-the-counter kit, or follow these steps:

  • Stand or sit with your head in an upright position.
  • Hold the outside of your ear and pull it gently upward.
  • With a syringe, send a stream of body-temperature water into your ear. Water that is too cold or too warm can cause dizziness.
  • Allow water to drain by tipping your head.

It might be necessary to do this several times. If you often deal with wax buildup, routine ear irrigation may help prevent the condition.

Most people don’t need frequent medical help for earwax removal. In fact, the Cleveland Clinic says that a once-a-year cleaning at your annual doctor’s appointment is usually enough to keep blockage at bay.

Warning About Ear Candles

Ear candles may be marketed as a treatment for earwax buildup and other conditions, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns consumers that these products may not be safe.

This treatment is also known as ear coning or thermal auricular therapy. It involves inserting a lit tube of fabric coated in beeswax or paraffin into the ear. The theory is that the suction produced will pull wax out of the ear canal.

According to the FDA, the use of these candles can result in:

  • burns to the ear and face
  • bleeding
  • punctured eardrums
  • injuries from dripping wax
  • fire hazards

This can be especially dangerous for young children who have trouble being still. The FDA has received reports of injuries and burns, some of which required outpatient surgery. The agency believes such incidents are probably underreported.

Check with your healthcare professional before trying to use these products.

Hearing loss Victory

In a few weeks the Super Bowl will be held. Derrick Coleman, fullback and his teammates, the Seattle Seahawks, won the title several years ago.

What makes this so noteworthy is Derrick has worn hearing aids since elementary school. Without them he hears very little.
He faced a lot of adversity growing up because of his hearing problems, but that just caused him to work harder on and off the football field.

Coaches love him because they say he pays closer attention to them than most other players and now he has a Super Bowl ring.

He was a former tailback at UCLA who transitioned to fullback at the NFL level, Coleman played in 36 games for the Seahawks after originally joining the the team as a practice-squad signing in December 2012. He played in 12 games for Seattle during the 2013 season, becoming an integral part of special teams units for Seattle’s Super Bowl XLVIII-winning squad.

Coleman drew national attention during the Seahawks’ rise to prominence. He released his autobiography, “No Excuses: Growing Up Deaf and Achieving My Super Bowl Dreams,” in June 2015.
Your goals may not be as lofty as winning a Super Bowl, but don’t let hearing loss hold you back no matter what your dreams are.

FDA takes steps to improve hearing aid OTC accessibility

FDA takes steps to improve hearing aid accessibility

For Immediate Release

December 7, 2016

Release

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today announced important steps to better support consumer access to hearing aids. The agency issued a guidance document explaining that it does not intend to enforce the requirement that individuals 18 and up receive a medical evaluation or sign a waiver prior to purchasing most hearing aids. This guidance is effective immediately. Today, the FDA is also announcing its commitment to consider creating a category of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids that could deliver new, innovative and lower-cost products to millions of consumers.

“Today’s actions are an example of the FDA considering flexible approaches to regulation that encourage innovation in areas of rapid scientific progress,” said FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, M.D. “The guidance will support consumer access to most hearing aids while the FDA takes the steps necessary to propose to modify our regulations to create a category of OTC hearing aids that could help many Americans improve their quality of life through better hearing.”

The FDA has cited that hearing loss affects some 30 million people in the United States and can have a significant impact on communication, social participation and overall health and quality of life. Despite the high prevalence and public health impact of hearing loss, only about one-fifth of people who could benefit from a hearing aid seek intervention.

In October 2015, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) issued recommendations intended to facilitate hearing aid device innovation, and improve affordability and patient access. Additionally, the FDA and other federal agencies and a consumer advocacy group sponsored a studydisclaimer iconpublished by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) in June 2016.

Both PCAST and NAS cited FDA regulations regarding conditions for sale as a potential barrier to availability and accessibility of hearing aids, and concluded that the regulation was providing little to no meaningful benefit to patients. PCAST noted that, at present, hearing aids often cost more than $2,000 a piece, and such barriers to distribution channels may limit new entrants who could achieve technological breakthroughs that could offer a greater variety of lower-cost hearing aid options to those suffering from hearing loss. The regulation requires that all prospective hearing aid users have a medical evaluation by a licensed physician to determine the cause of hearing loss and whether medical or surgical treatments would be more appropriate. Individuals 18 and up may waive the requirement for a medical evaluation by signing a waiver statement.

For the guidance document issued today, the FDA considered recommendations from the PCAST and NAS reports and public comments received on a draft guidance issued in 2013, as well as comments received at an April 2016 FDA workshop.

Under the new guidance, the FDA will continue to enforce the medical evaluation requirement for prospective hearing aid users UNDER AGE 18. Under the FDA’s hearing aid regulations, hearing aid labeling must include information about medical conditions that should be evaluated by a licensed physician. In addition, the FDA requires that information and instructions about hearing aids be provided to consumers before any purchase from a licensed hearing aid dispenser.

The guidance is “Immediately in Effect,” which means it is implemented without prior public comment because it presents a less burdensome policy that is consistent with public health. The public can still comment on the guidance, and the FDA will consider all comments received and revise the guidance document as appropriate.

The FDA intends to consider and address PCAST and NAS recommendations regarding a regulatory framework for over-the-counter hearing aids without the requirement for consultation with a credentialed dispenser. The agency is committed to seeking additional public input before proposing such an approach.

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency is also responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

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New study finds a link between hearing loss and personality changes

Most people tend to become less outgoing as they age, a new study from the University of Gothenburg shows, indicating this change is more apparent in those suffering from hearing loss.

Researchers studied 400 individuals 80-98 years old over the course of six years. Subjects were tested for mental and physical prowess every two years, including personality characteristics such as emotional stability and extra-version. Results indicated that even if emotional stability stayed the same during the study period, participants became less outgoing.

Researchers could not connect the changes to most physical or cognitive impairments, or to difficulty finding social activities. Hearing loss was the only thing linked to reduced extra-version, and use of Hearing Aids did not affect this link — indicating to researchers that providing support in the use of such aids is key.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time a link between hearing and personality changes has been established in longitudinal studies…. If the perceived quality of social interaction goes down, it may eventually affect whether and how we relate to others,” said Anne Ingeborg Berg, PhD, licensed psychologist and researcher at the Department of Psychology, University of Gothenburg.

“Our previous studies have shown that outgoing individuals are happier with their lives. It is hypothesized that an outgoing personality reflects a positive approach to life, but it also probably shows how important it is for most people to share both joy and sadness with others,” she added.