The mention of ear wax often evokes images of a waxy, yellowish substance that some people find rather unpleasant. Tinnitus, on the other hand, is a noise which is usually only heard by the person who has it, often described as a buzzing, hissing, or ringing sound. On the surface, these two might seem unrelated, but delve deeper, and you’ll discover that there can be a connection between them. In this article, we’ll look at ear wax and its relation to tinnitus and what steps can be taken to manage this symptom effectively.
What is Ear Wax?
Before delving into the relationship between ear wax and tinnitus, it’s essential to understand what ear wax, or cerumen, actually is. Ear wax is a natural secretion produced by the ceruminous glands in the ear canal. It serves as a protective barrier against dust, bacteria, and other foreign particles. While it often self-regulates, certain factors like age, hygiene habits, or anatomical differences can result in excess ear wax, leading to blockages.
The Anatomy of Tinnitus
Tinnitus is a condition characterised by the perception of noise in the ear when there is no external sound source. It can be a symptom of other underlying conditions, such as age-related hearing loss, ear injuries, or circulatory problems. For most people, tinnitus is an occasional annoyance, while for a small minority, it is a debilitating problem that affects their quality of life.
How Ear Wax Can Cause Tinnitus
There are several possible ways you may have experienced tinnitus caused by ear wax. To help you understand the impact of ear wax on tinnitus, let’s go over how it can happen:
Blockage and Pressure
Excessive ear wax can lead to blockage of the ear canal, reducing the level of sound energy reaching the eardrum. This can temporarily reduce hearing and in turn make you more aware of tinnitus. The absence of the wax’s normal protective capabilities may also expose the ear to bacterial or fungal infections, exacerbating tinnitus symptoms. Tinnitus symptoms and ear wax accumulation don’t always go hand in hand, but it is something to be mindful of.
The Feedback Loop
For some individuals, the presence of ear wax may be a minor contributor, but they become increasingly sensitive to the symptoms of tinnitus, further elevating their awareness of the condition. This can create a feedback loop where the symptoms of tinnitus become more bothersome because the individual is hyper-focused on them, and in some cases, might incorrectly attribute them solely to the ear wax.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The best way to address tinnitus caused by ear wax is to get a proper diagnosis and treatment from a professional. This generally follows a set routine that includes:
If you suspect that ear wax may be causing your tinnitus, consult an audiologist or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist for a thorough examination. If excessive ear wax is found, removal may be recommended.
Wax Removal Techniques
There are various methods of ear wax removal for tinnitus relief, such as micro-suction, irrigation, or manual removal using specialised tools. Sometimes, over-the-counter wax softening drops are advised before these procedures. It’s essential never to attempt an ear cleaning for tinnitus treatment at home with cotton swabs or other tools as you can push the wax further down or damage your ear.
Once the ear wax is removed, it might take some time to see an improvement in tinnitus symptoms. In many cases, the removal of the wax reduces awareness of tinnitus. However, if tinnitus persists, further investigations are necessary to rule out other underlying issues.
Prevention and Management
Once you’ve identified that ear wax is causing – or exacerbating – your tinnitus, your next step will be to prevent and manage the symptoms effectively. Here’s how to do it:
Routine visits to an audiologist can help in monitoring ear health and preventing excessive accumulation of earwax. This is especially true for people who are more prone to developing wax impactions.
Practising good ear hygiene is important but remember that ears are generally self-cleaning. Overzealous cleaning can lead to problems rather than solving them.
Addressing Underlying Conditions
In some cases, tinnitus is a symptom of more severe health issues like high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease. Managing these conditions can also alleviate tinnitus symptoms.
Find Out if Ear Wax is Causing Your Tinnitus
While ear wax might seem like a trivial aspect of human health, its influence on conditions like tinnitus is significant. Proper diagnosis and finding treatment options for ear wax-related cases of tinnitus can alleviate the symptoms and improve the quality of life for people who have it. Therefore, understanding the link between ear wax and tinnitus can be a vital step in effective symptom management.