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The human ear is designed to be self-cleaning, where ear wax (also called cerumen) migrates out of the external ear canal and onto the skin of the external ear (pinna). However, in certain circumstances, ear wax does not clear and instead accumulates in the ear canal. This occurs more frequently when the external ear canal is crooked, or where it is narrow, in which case the wax does not migrate out of the ear canal easily. This also occurs when the ear wax is particularly hard and dry and builds up rapidly. When ear wax is unable to migrate out, it tends to become impacted in the external ear canal.
Impacted Ear wax is one of the most common causes of decreased hearing. This can develop suddenly in the case of sudden expansion of the ear wax after a swim for instance. The hearing loss can also develop slowly over several months where the ear wax slowly builds up in the external ear canal and completely occludes it.
There are several ways to remove ear wax. Some commercial preparations of wax softeners can be used. However this should be used with caution among children with known allergies.
If wax softening agents fail, you should seek professional help. An Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Surgeon will directly visualize the external ear canal with a microscope in the clinic while removing the ear wax with suction apparatus or various microscopic instruments. As the surgeon is able to see the ear canal during the procedure, accidental damage to the ear drum and external ear canal can be avoided. At the same time, the ear canal and ear drum can be carefully inspected under a microscope.