Do you have an elderly family member in an assisted living facility experiencing hearing loss? Studies have shown that the main cause of hearing loss is Presbycusis, hearing loss due to aging. But what might come as a surprise to you is a simple culprit for hearing loss among this demographic is actually earwax. Yes, earwax.
Earwax: What is it, and What does it do?
That greasy, oil, buildup in your ears, often called earwax is not really wax at all, but a substance called cerumen. It plays an especially important role in protecting your ears. It acts as a natural barrier in stopping dust, debris, or dirt from entering the deep, often sensitive parts of your ear. Generally, the earwax is a self-cleaning process where it detaches from the sides of your ear and naturally falls out once it accumulates too much dirt or dry skin. Earwax also plays a role as moisturizer for one’s outer ear, preventing any dryness, irritation, or infection. It also protects any type of bugs or critters from entering your inner ear as the smell of earwax is odious to bugs.
Too Much Earwax Can Cause Hearing Loss
Though earwax naturally removes itself from the ear, excessive amounts of buildup may occur which impact hearing loss or ringing in your ears according to Jackie Clark, president of the American Academy of Audiology. This occurs when your body believes it needs to produce more earwax than necessary. Furthermore, cerumen also overproduces as result of stress –earwax is produced by the same gland, apocrine. Individuals with excessive amounts of hair in their ear canals or those who often experience ear infections may be susceptible to overproduction of earwax as well.
This major buildup of wax is known as impaction and could lead obstruction in hearing. Of the 2.2 million people who live in U.S. assisted living facilities or nursing homes, nearly two-thirds of them suffer from this condition.
Earwax Among Assisted Living Residents
According to Dr. Seth Schwartz, a Seattle otolaryngologist, excessive earwax buildup seems like such a basic thing, but it’s a highly common reason people face hearing-related problems, especially in elderly patients. Nearly 20% of adults and more than 30% of elderly people face impaction to the point where it can completely block the ear canal.
With such frequent cases, it is important to recognize that impaction may lead to other problems among assisted living seniors such as communication problems, social isolation, and depression. Many professionals have recognized the strong correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline among the elderly.
A 2014 Japanese study which examined the effect of cerumen impaction on hearing and cognitive functions in elderly Japanese revealed the significant improvements in hearing and cognitive performance in elderly patients with memory disorders once the impacted earwax was removed.
Removing Earwax Safely
Too often, people try to remove excess earwax on their own using Q-tips, bobby pins, or other small items. These types of tools could actually damage your hearing rather than actually cleaning it. Usage of these tools often push your earwax further back into your canal, leading to obstruction of hearing. The removal of earwax is a self-cleaning process. The best way to care for your ears is to leave them alone and let them clean themselves.
Keeping your ears clean is important. You can use a warm cloth to clean the external areas, but be sure to keep away from the inner canals. Often times, taking a warm or hot shower also helps loosen up the earwax within the ear, allowing it to naturally fall out.
If you or a loved in an assisted living facility is facing earwax buildup and are unsure of the necessary measures of removal, seeking professional help may be the best option towards regaining hearing and improving cognitive health.
Seek a Professional
For seniors using hearing-aids, professional suggest getting your ears checked every three to six months to assess earwax impaction. Those with dementia should also have earwax regularly removed according to guidelines.
With the use of an otoscope, a device that has abilities to look deep inside the ear, professionals are able to identify if there is excessive cerumen that is blocking the canal. With the use of commercial ear drops or saline, earwax is softened and professionally removed by either syringe or by a device called a curette. This is the safest option toward removing buildup.
Visit us at Gulf Gate Hearing Aid Center
Are you experiencing issues with your hearing? It may be earwax impaction, or it could be another hearing related issue. If you experience earwax impaction and believe it is affecting your hearing or even cognitive health, contact us at Gulf Gate Hearing Aid Center.