Q. Every time our 9-month-old daughter visits her pediatrician, she has to have earwax removed from her ear canals. She’s also had several ear infections already. Is the earwax buildup causing these? Is there anything I can do to reduce the amount of wax?
A. Earwax, also known as cerumen, is a yellow waxy substance produced by the outer third of the ear canal. Earwax is a normal part of a healthy ear canal. Earwax helps protect, clean and lubricate the ear canal. Overproduction of earwax does not lead to middle ear infections.
Typically, earwax will make its way to the outer ear, where it is easily retrieved with a damp cloth. In some instances, earwax may need to be removed, like when the pediatrician needs to see the eardrum. Other reasons include: ear pain or itching, sense of fullness in the ear, decreased hearing due to wax buildup and cough.
Earwax removal (by a health care provider) is typically painless and easy because earwax is produced in the outer third of the ear canal. Certain things can make removal more difficult.
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Placing items in the ear canal such as cotton swabs, fingers, ear bud headphones and hearing aids will push wax deeper into the canal, where the ear canal is more sensitive and the wax is more difficult to see. This is the main reason doctors advise against inserting cotton swabs into ear canals.
Some people make drier earwax than others. In these cases, the wax may harden and become impacted in the canal. For people with dry earwax, the use of mineral oil or baby oil drops in the ear canal once or twice a week may keep the earwax softened.
Over-the-counter earwax drops may also be beneficial – particularly if used prior to a doctor’s appointment. The use of drops or oils in the ear canal should be avoided if a child has a perforated eardrum or ear tubes.
In your child’s case, the earwax production is most likely typical and would not warrant ear drops or oils.