Earwax protects our delicate hearing mechanism from dirt and other airborne particles. And any audiologist or physician will tell you there’s typically no need for most people to clean the goop out of our ears. (In fact, improper cleaning could injure the eardrum and ear canal.) However, as people get older, the chances of potentially harmful earwax (cerumen) buildup increase.
According to an article from CNN, approximately two-thirds of the more than 2 million people living in skilled nursing and assisted living facilities in the U.S. might have a severe buildup of earwax called impaction.
“The excessive amount [of earwax] can cause hearing loss or ringing in your ears, says audiologist Jackie Clark in the article. “Some people experience vertigo, which increases the risk of falling.” The article also cites studies indicating possible ties between hearing loss and dementia.
Hearing difficulties can easily be missed in skilled nursing facilities, which means residents receive no or unnecessary treatments.
The articles goes on to offer several statistics about this issue, such as the $51 million billed to Medicare in 2016 for earwax removal and the approximately 12 million people in the U.S. each year who seek treatment for earwax buildup. The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation suspects many more people attempt removal at home, which could cause more permanent and severe damage.
One study cited in the story shows the benefits of removing impacted earwax in older people, especially those experiencing hearing loss or cognitive decline.
Shelley D. Hutchins is content editor/producer for the ASHA Leader. firstname.lastname@example.org.