Fletcher Allen, a Vermont university hospital and medical center, serves all of
Vermont and the northern New York region. Located in Burlington, Fletcher Allen is a regional, academic healthcare center and teaching hospital in alliance with the University of Vermont.
An Earful About Earwax
An Earful about Earwax
Parents have recently been giving me an earful on what they should do about their child having so much earwax. Well, listen up, and let me lend an ear and some advice on this problem.
Earwax, though not the most pleasant thing to look at, is actually there to protect the ear drum and ear canal.
It is produced by glands in the outer ear canal and serves to prevent germs from getting in and causing infection. It also prevents dust and dirt from getting in and irritating the eardrum. Earwax provides a waterproof coating for the inside of the ear, which keeps the skin of the ear moist and not dry and itchy.
What should you normally do about earwax? Absolutely nothing! Once earwax is produced it usually migrates to the outer opening of the ear, where it naturally falls out or can be easily removed during regular bathing.
What should you do if the earwax is excessive? Again, absolutely nothing, unless your child says they are having trouble hearing or have pain due to their ear wax—both of which are rare occurrences. If this is the case, the wax should be removed by your child’s doctor, who can use their otoscope, an instrument that allows him or her to see where the wax is and remove it with minimal discomfort.
If you want to do something about your child’s earwax, and if you see it sitting there on the edge of the ear, you can try to wipe the outside of the ear with a damp wash cloth rather than a cotton swab or finger which will pack the wax in further or cause infection or ear damage. Or, you may want to try over-the-counter treatments such as hydrogen peroxide drops for softening ear wax. Please talk to your child’s doctor first to make sure these ear drops are safe to use on your child.
If you have any concerns about your child’s ear pain, don’t just blame it on earwax but have those ears checked to make sure you are not missing an infection or something that your child has stuck inside of their ear when you were not looking, so the problem causing the pain can be properly treated.
Hopefully, tips like this will make earwax problems be “ear today and gone
tomorrow” when it comes to knowing more about this common concern.
Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids.