WebMD Medical News
Louise Chang, MD
Aug. 29, 2008 -- The body is a miraculous mechanism. Consider the once-lowly
earwax. People used to try to remove it. Now, we now know that earwax has a job
Think of it kind of like the oil in your car, except it doesn't ever have to
Earwax is created by a mixture of secretions from glands that line the ear
canal, sloughed-off skin cells, and bits of hair.
It acts as a cleaning agent, which also protects and lubricates part of the
sensitive ear canal.
Normally, excess wax eases its way out of your ear without any prompting on
your part, helped along by the movement of your jaw.
That's when it can be cleaned out a bit, but it's advised that you not go
looking for it and only clean out earwax once it emerges on its own.
So, although earwax is essentially good, too much of it can cause
The American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery Foundation
are releasing the national guidelines to help clinicians recognize earwax
buildup, find the best ways to remove earwax, and deal with patients when
earwax becomes a problem. The guidelines do not apply to earwax impaction
related to certain conditions, such as skin diseases of the ear.
The clinical term for earwax is cerumen.
"Approximately 12 million people a year in the U.S. seek medical care
for impacted or excessive cerumen," according to news release comments from
Richard Rosenfeld, MD, who led the Guideline Development Task Force.
He says nearly 8 million cerumen-removal procedures are performed yearly by
health care professionals. "Developing practical clinical guidelines for
physicians to understand the harm vs. benefit profile of the intervention was
essential," Rosenfeld says.
The panel that created the guidelines was drawn from a pool of specialists
in audiology, family medicine, geriatrics, internal medicine, nursing,
surgeons, and pediatrics.
Here are some of the guidelines' highlights:
Symptoms of too much earwax:
How do professionals remove it? One way is with irrigation, gently letting
water wash out the excess wax.
In prepared comments, the panel's lead author Peter Roland, MD, said,
"The complications from cerumen impaction can be painful and ongoing,
including infections and hearing loss."
He added, "It is hoped that these guidelines will give clinicians the
tools they need to spot an issue early and avoid serious outcomes."
The guidelines are published in the September issue of Otolarynology-Head
and Neck Surgery.
SOURCES:Roland, P. Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, September 2008.News release, American Academy of Otolaryngology.
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