Monday May 19 2014

How well do you clean your ears?

 Most people use cotton swabs to clean their ears, but experts say

Most people use cotton swabs to clean their ears, but experts say they need to take caution as this could damage the eardrums if not done properly. Photo by Rachel Mabala 

By Christine Katende

Hygiene is an important concern in our day-to-day life. However, there are aspects of our health that we do not pay much attention to.

For instance, have you ever wondered why some people have a lot of wax leaking from their ears? While the presence of wax generally plays an important role to the ears, they could also be an indication that we have not paid attention to its hygiene.

Dr Noah Byenkya Kwesiga an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist at Koobs Clinic in Seeta, a Kampala suburb, says wax is the natural secretion produced in the ear, with the aim of protecting the canal and drum from damage.

“Wax is the oil of the ear canal, which acts as an equivalent of sweat to the skin. It is produced by the body when it is watery but becomes solid as it comes out of the ear,” he says.
“Wax appears yellowish and some people mistake it for pus, especially when it is a lot,” says Dr Kwesiga.

Natural functions
Wax helps to trap dust that would reach the eardrum and protects it from insects such as small cockroaches that could have otherwise entered the ear, especially when we are asleep.
The acid that lives within the wax kills these insects, thereby protecting the eardrum.

It also protects the skin of the canal from cracks that would prevent sound from reaching the brain.

Wax also plays an important role of controlling the amount of sound that reaches the eardrum, since it is the drum that gauges the amount of sound that should get into our brains.

“Wax plays the role of protecting the inner part of the ear that connects to the brain,” Dr Kwesiga says. He further explains that although ear wax is vital, there are some cases when too much of it should be a source of concern.

“Having just enough wax is good, but when it becomes a lot, the ear canal gets blocked, and this could cause deafness. Having too much wax in the ear affects a person’s capacity to hear properly,” says Dr Kwesiga.

He explains that poor hygiene also plays a key role in keeping people’s ears full of wax, which could produce a bad smell and make people around them uncomfortable.

How to clean the ear
Dr Kwesiga says whenever a person notices that their ears have a lot of wax, they should ensure to clean it at least two times a day, especially when they take a shower. Thereafter, they can use a wet white cloth to wipe the ears.

In cases where a person’s ear produces a lot of wax, Dr Kwesiga says they can use medications that suppress the wax from forming.

He warns against the use of pen lids, match box sticks and tooth picks for cleaning the teeth, as this could easily damage the eardrum.

Dr Kwesiga also recommends that people need to visit an ENT doctor at least once every three months, even though they do not have any ear-related condition.

He warns against the use of cotton swabs, which he says are not so safe, as they can also cause damage to the ear during the cleaning process.