Earwax is a vital substance. The skin glands in your ears produce it to repel water and to keep your ear canal free of unwelcome foreign matter. It traps dust, dirt, bacteria, and other outside matter that could otherwise cause major damage to your eardrum. As material gets caught in it, wax builds up just a little bit, and then dries out and washes away out of the ear.
Unfortunately, we all know that too much waxy buildup in the ears can also cause some really uncomfortable problems, especially for children. When your child is sick, the ceruminous glands in their ears will tend to produce wax faster than their body can shed it, causing the ears to be plugged up with waxy buildup.
Because your child’s Eustachian tubes are more horizontal than an adult’s is, they cannot drain fluids as efficiently. This, in conjunction with waxy buildup as a result of a cold or sinusitis, can lead to very painful ear infections. Clearing out excess earwax can help your child hear better and sometimes help him or her feel better too, but you have to be very careful.
What Not to Do
You might be tempted to try to clean your child’s ears out with a Q-tip or cotton bud, but do not do this under any circumstances. In fact, do not stick any foreign objects in your child’s ear canals.
For one thing, your child’s eardrum is as thin as a tissue, and you could very easily push too far into the ear canal, put pressure on it, and cause it to burst. Second, rubbing around in your child’s ear canal with a Q-tip is likely to just pack the earwax farther into the canal, rather than extracting it. This method is not only dangerous, but it’s also very ineffective.
What You Can Do
First of all, do make an appointment with your child’s ear, nose, and throat doctor. Waxy buildup may be indicative of other problems, or may be easily mistaken for outer ear infection – otitis externa. Treatment with prescription ear drops may be needed. In any case, do not try to self diagnose your child at home.
The ENT doctor will likely manage your child’s ears under the microscope. If there is tenacious wax down deep in the ear canal, the doctor may have to carefully remove it out manually. This process is uncomfortable and sometimes painful, depending on the degree of infection. So be prepared to hold your child’s hand and to give them a big hug when it is over.
If you can’t get to the ENT specialist, you can help your child with a little bit of relief in the meantime. First, if there is any wax built up around the outside of the ear, go ahead and wipe it away gently with a warm, damp washcloth. Next, you can see your local doctor, who will be able to contact an ear nose throat specialist as needed.
After the ears are cleared, your ENT specialist may suggest maintenance with olive oil ear drops. This is a traditional remedy for removing ear wax. Use an eyedropper to squeeze about 1-2 drops of olive oil into the ear. Make sure that your child lies still for at least 5 minutes. Repeat the process for the other ear. Managing waxy ears at home is safe if you do it this way, but it should not be used as a replacement for visiting the ENT doctor. If your child’s ears are overproducing wax and causing problems, it’s time to make an appointment to treat the problem, and to also ensure that there is no underlying infection.
If you have questions about ear wax buildup or otitis externa management contact your local doctor who will arrange for you see an ear nose and throat surgeon.
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