Can Earwax Cause Hearing Loss?

Hearing care providers are more frequently running into patients who are having trouble hearing – only to find out that the cause of the problem is earwax buildup. Excessive cerumen, as earwax is called, is one of the most common causes for conductive hearing loss, and luckily the most treatable. What occurs in conductive hearing loss is blockage to the ear canal and the inner ear, causing a barrier to sound transmission.

What’s the Function of Earwax?

Earwax produces naturally as a form of protection for our inner ears. The oily, wax-like substance forms to trap dust, bacteria, and other harmful things from entering the sensitive inner canals of you ear, preventing any type of damage to your hearing. Earwax is needed in order to keep your ears healthy, and the absence of it may even cause dryness and irritation.

Generally, your ears are designed to clean themselves. Chewing or moving your jaw through talking naturally helps migrate the earwax to the outer parts of your ear where it falls out or is washed away when we shower or wash our ears. Normally, people do not need to clean their ears, however glands in certain people’s ears may produce more excess wax that impacts not only your hearing, but also may also be the culprit to other health problems as well.

Earwax Buildup and Its Impact

As one of the most common causes of conductive hearing loss, earwax buildup or impaction, may cause more than just the ability to hear clearly. People may experience earaches, a feeling of fullness or clogging in the ear, or even tinnitus, the ringing or buzzing noise in the ear. Earwax buildup can also lead to infection where one may experience severe pain in their ear that does not subside, drainage from the ear, coughing or fever like symptoms, dizziness or even persistent hearing loss.

Earwax impaction can affect anyone of all ages, but is particularly common among seniors. Studies have shown that nearly 30% of elderly people face impaction to the point where it can completely block the canal. Even more prevalent are among those residing within assisted living centers, where up to two-thirds of the approximately 2 million people who live in such places suffer from this condition.

A 2014 Japanese study examining the effect of earwax impaction on hearing loss in elderly Japanese patients revealed links towards cognitive performance. Patients often faced communication problems, which can lead to social isolation and depression. The study revealed that once impacted earwax was removed, their cognition improved greatly.

The Do’s and Don’ts When Facing Earwax Buildup and Conductive Hearing Loss

Often times we seek out what we think are instant, quick and easy remedies that may improve our health, but sometimes these are routes we shouldn’t be taking. In the case of excessive earwax buildup, one main misconception is the use of cotton swabs or even ear candles, often known as ear coning or thermal auricular therapy.

We’ve been marketed the idea that Q-Tips get rid of earwax, but in fact, they further exacerbate the problem as such objects tend to push the wax further into the canal, heightening the impaction. Equally important, cotton swabs or any foreign object for that matter could easily damage the sensitive parts of our inner ear, especially the eardrum. In the case of ear candles, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns consumers that these products may not be safe as they can result in punctured eardrums, burns to the ear and face, and other dangers.

Now we know what the Don’ts when it comes to earwax impaction, what should we be doing when we are faced with conductive hearing loss?

The good news is that hearing loss caused by cerumen impaction is easily treated by a hearing professional. It is within their scope of expertise to assist patients with cerumen removal. If your hearing loss is as simple as having your ears cleaned, that is a great position to be in! If not, it is highly encouraged to visit a licensed hearing professional to have your hearing tested to accurately uncover what might be causing your perception of hearing loss.

Setting up an appointment with a licensed hearing healthcare professional is easy and convenient. Contact us at Hearing Health and we’ll help get you scheduled with a provider near you!