Growing up two streets away from my grandparents was a blessing. I have so many fond childhood memories scampering around their home, exploring their generously proportioned garden and listening to the type of stories and sage advice that come with decades of life experience.
My grandmother was able to put the pre-school me at ease, insisting that there was indeed colour “in the old days” – a conundrum that had temporarily perplexed me while watching old films at her home one afternoon.
One piece of advice, or expression, I recall her saying on more than one occasion was that you should “never put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear”. Of course, tell this to an infant (ok, or in my case perhaps even an immature teen) and they’ll instantly try and contort and twist their limbs to see if they can, in fact, squeeze their elbow own into their ear.
Mind you, she was also an avid believer in the power of a “glass of warm milk” to cure all manner of ailments and when suffering from nose bleeds she recommended “lying down and placing a cold house key on the back of my neck” to stem the flow of blood. Needless to say, Granny Mac did not have a PhD in medicine. I tried it nonetheless, probably to her amusement.
Now working for one of Scotland’s oldest charities that help people with both sight and hearing loss, Visibility, and firm in the knowledge that the world was indeed blessed with a visible spectrum of more than black and white prior to the introduction of Technicolor movies in the 1930s, I wanted to find out if my wise old Gran was right… should I be probing and prodding at my ear canal with a cotton bud to keep them clean? Come on, I know I’m not the only one.
Like sweat and tears, ear wax – or cerumen – is a normal, natural product of our bodies. Produced by tiny glands in our ear canals, ear wax is an antifungal, antibacterial substance which protects the outer ear from dust and other tiny particles we come in contact with every day. A normal amount of ear wax contributes to good hearing health and the amount and texture of ear wax produced varies from one individual to another.
One person may create too little ear wax, making the ear canal dry, itchy and prone to bacteria. Another person may create too much ear wax, causing a build-up deep in the ear canal affecting hearing quality, known as conductive hearing loss.
Excessive ear wax can also have a detrimental effect on the optimum operation of hearing aids. Ear wax hygiene is especially important for hearing aid wearers. Surplus wax may enter the speaker of the hearing aid, causing damage and potentially extensive and expensive repairs to the circuitry.
“Be extremely picky about what you put in your ears,” says Dr. Steven Andrew Davis.
“The perceived culprit is ear wax. Many of us simply don’t want it inside our ears. But when it comes to removing earwax, Ear, Nose, and Throat specialists have some sharp advice – ‘never put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear! Cotton tips are for cleaning out belly buttons – not ears’.
“If you have earwax way down into the ear, even on top of the eardrum, it may well be because you’ve been putting something in your ear to try to clean out wax; you should not be doing that, for you could damage the skin of the ear or the eardrum itself. It’s especially dangerous to try to clean our your ear canal if you have a hole in the eardrum, for washing water through such a hole in the eardrum could easily start up an ear infection.
“If after all these cautions you still feel the need to remove wax from your ears, check with a knowledgeable physician first for the proper technique. A family doctor or an ENT specialist can suggest appropriate ear wax softening agents, tell you how to gently rinse out wax without sticking anything into your ear, and how to thoroughly dry the inside of the ear with alcohol.”
So there we have it. My grandmother was a smart woman. I should’ve listened. I recently had a pretty painful ear infection caused, or at least exacerbated, by jabbing away at an agitated inner ear with a cotton bud. But while Dr. Steven Andrew Davis echoes the advice of her, and I’m sure many other grandmothers and mothers around the globe, there is one thing that is completely safe to insert in your ear.
Earplugs are designed to protect the sensitive hearing mechanisms while never coming close to touching the ear drum—even when deeply inserted (But remember: Granny was right about everything else!)
Dr. Steven Andrew Davis quotes and picture courtesy www.speakingofhealth.com
Additional information www.lincolnhearing.ca