Plugged ears are usually caused by a buildup of cerumen in the auditory canal. Cerumen is the fatty, yellowish substance secreted by the ceruminous glands in the external auditory canal. Normally, it flows out of the auditory canal spontaneously. It is responsible for trapping impurities and eliminating them toward the outside. It also protects the cutaneous covering of the outer ear against infections. In addition, cerumen serves to lubricate the eardrum, which would be hard and rigid otherwise. Unlubricated, the eardrum would not be able to transmit sound efficiently.
Occasionally, cerumen accumulates in the auditory canal, forming a plug. Because the plug forms slowly, the individual gradually gets used to the loss of hearing. Once it has formed a plug, the cerumen no longer serves its protective role, being unable to trap dust and prevent infection.
Never insert anything into the auditory canal. This merely pushes the cerumen to the back of the canal and removes the protective covering of the surface. Using cotton swabs or ear candles is not only ineffective but can cause injury. When cleaning the ear, use a finger wrapped in a damp washcloth. Remember that the presence of cerumen is not a sign of dirtiness.
If you think you have an ear plugged with cerumen, consult your pharmacist, who can advise you. If the plug is recent and not too compacted, you can soften it by using emollient drops for no more than 4 days. An ear syringe can also be used to remove the plug. If you experience bleeding, discharges, pain, or any other problems with an ear, consult your family doctor who can assess the situation and remove a plug if necessary.
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