|: Earwax Is Usually Not A Problem
DEAR DR. PAUL: My son tends to have a lot of wax
in his ears. Is this dangerous? Will it cause ear infections?
How can I remove the wax from his ears?
PEDIATRICIAN DR. PAUL Answers: Wax is part of the
ear's natural protection or defense against germs and other particles.
The only way to determine presence of earwax buildup is by a doctor
examining the ear with an otoscope. Practically speaking, the
main difficulty is that the wax can completely cover the ear drum.
When a doctor examines the ear he/she cannot see the eardrum and
therefore cannot determine if there is an infection or other problem.
Contrary to popular belief, wax build up does not cause ear infections
or any other serious problems. In very rare cases, the wax can
build up so much the that it can actually block hearing. This
can easily be corrected by cleaning out the wax. Some children
tend to have more earwax than others and we really don't know
why. Certain families tend to produce more earwax and others tend
to produce less. Similarly, there are also families that tend
to make harder, thicker wax while others to produce thinner, more
How can earwax be cleaned out? Parents sometimes get overzealous
in trying to clean a child's ear but the first thing that I tell
them is that Q-tips or any other long objects should
not be inserted into a child's ear. This can potentially
damage or put hole in the eardrum. When bathing a young child,
gently washing around the outside of the ear with a wet washcloth
is enough. If a child tends to have a lot of wax, placing a few
drops of mineral or baby oil in the ear and covering it with a
cotton plug overnight may help. Doing this once or twice will
usually do the trick. Parents often ask me about commercially
available drops called cerumenolytic agents that are designed
to melt or break down the wax. I do not recommend these because
they tend to irritate the ear canal.
Sometimes the wax cannot be fully removed by the above approach,
in which case it should be removed by a physician or qualified
nurse. One technique, is syringing the ear. As the child is lying
down, a syringe, full of warm water, is gently inserted into the
ear and the water is flushed into the canal removing or washing
out the wax. This may take a few tries before the wax is fully
The other approach is curetting, when a thin instrument called
a curette, held like a pencil, is used to directly remove or literally
"pick out" the wax; Under direct visualization with a light, the
doctor gently removes the wax using the curette. Generally these
techniques are not painful but obviously will be more difficult
to perform in younger children. If the wax is very hard however,
sometimes the parents will be asked to go put apply oil or hydrogen
peroxide drops before hand in order to soften the wax, making
it easier to remove.
The information provided in this site is
designed to be an educational aid only. It is not intended to
replace the advice and care of your child's physician, nor is
it intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. If
you suspect that your child has a medical condition, always
consult a physician.
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