Ear Wax…The Hidden Culprit of Hearing Loss

Aging Americans know that one of the “inevitables” of growing old is often experiencing hearing loss.  Whether it’s the result of actual damage to the ear, or just the normal process of aging, it is not uncommon for people over the age of 65 to have some sort of hearing impairment.  In fact, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association estimates that between 40 and 50 percent of all Americans over the age of 75 have a hearing loss.

While it is a common problem, hearing loss is a very serious issue and often has devastating effects on the quality of people’s lives if left untreated.  Individuals with hearing impairment often notice that it affects their personal and professional relationships and they sometimes feel like they are missing out on some of the joy of life.  It is important, then, to determine the cause of the hearing loss, if possible, and seek a means to correct it.

One cause of hearing loss that affects both the young and the old and is often overlooked, is the buildup of ear wax.  Wax is naturally created by glands in the ear canal to help protect the ear from water, debris, and infection.  If too much of it is produced, or old wax is kept from spontaneously coming out of the ear on its own, it can build up over time and have serious consequences.   For example, a hardened plug of wax wedged into the ear canal can cause severe pain or even hearing loss.  If an individual with ear wax buildup already has a hearing aid, it may prevent it from functioning properly.  Wax blockage can also prevent a medical professional from being able to see into the ear canal, further masking any other potentially serious problems, such as infection.

If you feel that you have wax buildup and are unable to safely remove it on your own, it is important to seek professional assistance.  Our audiologists are trained to complete safe and effective ear wax removal with several different methods, including using a curette (a hand tool used to scoop the wax out of the ear), flushing the ear with water, or suction.  The method of choice is determined by personal preference and the patient’s comfort.  Once the ear wax is removed, hearing typically improves and/ or returns to normal.  Wax buildup may occur again over time, however, so it is important to pay close attention to any related signs and symptoms you may experience in the future.

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