We know that ear wax might not be the first thing on your mind when it comes to health (or the most pleasant thing to discuss) but despite this, it’s something that’s vital to protect your ear health.

According to the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), more than two million people each year need to have ear wax removed but what is ear wax and what role does it play in your hearing health?

Ear wax is a natural secretion produced by glands in your ear canal which is your ear’s way of keeping itself clean and protected. It’s made up of a combination of dead skin cells, oil, and sweat, all mixed together in a sticky concoction.

You might be wondering, what’s the point of having ear wax? Ear wax serves several important purposes. First, it acts as a natural lubricant, keeping your ear canal moist. This helps prevent dryness and itchiness, which can be quite uncomfortable. Believe it or not, having no ear wax is sometimes a bigger problem than having too much.

Ear wax also plays a crucial role in protecting your ears from like dust, dirt, and bugs forming a protective barrier, trapping them before they can impact your hearing.

In addition to keeping your ears clean and protected, ear wax helps with self-cleaning. As new wax is produced, the old stuff slowly makes its way to the outer ear, taking any trapped debris along with it ensuring your ears stay clean.

Despite the need for ear wax however, ear wax build-up is the bane of our ear’s existence. So, why does it happen?

Sometimes our ears produce more wax than they know what to do with. This can happen for various reasons, such as using earbuds or hearing aids, which can push wax further into the ear canal. Certain medical conditions can also cause excessive wax production, leading to build-up.

While some home remedies can be safe and effective when used correctly, others can do more harm than good. Ear drops, for example, can help soften ear wax, making it easier to remove. But if you stick that cotton bud too far into your ear, you could end up pushing wax deeper or, worse, damaging your delicate ear canal which can have a serious impact on your hearing.

AIHHP members are often asked about the DIY ear wax removal kits available over the counter and whether they’re effective. DIY kits can be convenient for some people, but they’re not without risks. Most kits come with tools like ear syringes or ear irrigation systems designed to flush out wax and while these methods can be effective when done correctly, they can also cause injury or infection if mishandled. I would never recommend a DIY kit unless a healthcare professional has assessed your ear canal first and confirmed you have no underlying risks. You are always best off trusting a qualified hearing care professional to clear your ears for you.

Hearing Aid Audiologists have a range of tools at their disposal to get rid of ear wax and they are fully trained to find the best solution for each patient.

There are a few tried-and-true methods. One is ear syringing, where warm water is gently flushed into the ear canal to dislodge and remove wax. Another option is micro suction, a gentle vacuuming technique that sucks out wax without the need for water. For stubborn cases, a tiny instrument called a curette may be used to scoop out wax manually. All of these methods have their benefits and drawbacks, and your hearing care professional will use the correct method to safely and efficiently help you.

It is important to emphasise that highly qualified hearing aid audiologists are also able to conduct comprehensive hearing tests once ear wax has been removed successfully.  They can identify underlying issues affecting a person’s hearing through the ear wax removal process and/or by conducting a hearing test.  This underscores the necessity in entrusting only specialists who are adequately and appropriately trained in such procedures.

People often neglect their ear health but it’s important to ensure that it’s checked regularly. How often depends on factors such as your age, medical history, and lifestyle. Generally, adults should aim for a hearing test every three to five years, while children, those over 55, and those already experiencing hearing loss may need more frequent checks, typically on an annual basis. If you notice any changes in your hearing or experience pain or discomfort in your ears, don’t wait—schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional immediately.

Finally, let’s talk about some top tips for maintaining good ear health. Firstly, practice safe listening habits by keeping the volume down on your devices and wearing ear protection in noisy environments. Trust us, your ears will thank you later! Secondly, resist the urge to play doctor and leave ear wax removal to the professionals. Finally, be mindful of what you put in your ears, whether it’s cotton buds, fingers, or other foreign objects. When in doubt, remember the golden rule: if it’s smaller than your elbow, keep it out!

The Association of Independent Hearing Healthcare Professionals (AIHHP), has launched a new campaign to help educate the general public about aural care and the importance of finding properly trained clinicians to undertake the procedure.

To find out more about AIHHP and to locate an accredited, fully trained audiologist, please visit www.blockedears.co.uk.

Oliver Wright is Chair of the Association of Independent Hearing Healthcare Professionals (AIHHP).

Oliver is a qualified Hearing Aid Audiologist and Director of DigiClear Hearing Limited, which has practices in London, Essex and Hertfordshire.