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Ear Health and Safety

Earinc, Boulder Colorado, man using a Bebird digital otoscope and showing image of ear canal on smartphone

By: Garry Gordon, MS 
Article first published in Safety+Health magazine.

What advice can I offer my employees who are hard of hearing because of ear wax?

Earinc, Boulder Colorado, man using a Bebird digital otoscope and showing image of ear canal on smartphone

To keep the ear healthy, it’s not just a matter of wearing proper hearing protection to protect the ear from noise or water. It’s also a matter of keeping them clean. I’ve examined the ears of industrial workers for more than four decades, and three major issues come to the forefront: hearing loss, tinnitus and excessive wax – or cerumen – buildup that has to be removed before continuing the use of insert-type hearing protection or being audiometrically evaluated. 

Basic clinical equipment to examine the ear includes otoscopes, ear lights or expensive video otoscopes. Equipment used to remove excessive earwax includes curettes, irrigators or several over-the-counter items that can be purchased through a pharmacy or hearing health care provider.

Today, there’s a better, more affordable option for both industrial hearing health care providers and end users who are concerned with proper ear hygiene. No more need for cotton swabs, bobby pins, paper clips or sharp instruments to keep the ear clean. And believe me, I’ve seen it all when it comes to how employees manage the task of keeping their ears clean.

Cerumen is produced from glands located in the external ear canal. Its composition can be soft or hard and, under normal circumstances, is expelled naturally when chewing or during normal body movements. However, when cerumen glands are overactive in junction with the use of devices like cotton swabs or constant use of insert-type hearing protection, earwax impaction is likely to occur. Even excess ear hair near the external auditory canal will contribute to the issue by trapping cerumen in the ear. When this condition arises, problems such as tinnitus may become more noticeable, in addition to diminished hearing acuity, itching, pain or external otitis.

So, when it comes to managing acceptable hearing hygiene, there are options that can be considered.

First and foremost, remember that anyone who uses cotton swabs or similar objects often contributes to the problem by pushing wax farther into the canal. Most (if not all) hearing health care professionals will advise against that.

Secondly, many employees who experience this type of issue will have access to a clinic or wellness center that can manage the problem promptly and successfully with the use of curettes, irrigators or video otoscopes.

Third is the option of purchasing earwax removal kits at your local pharmacy or through a hearing health care professional. These kits are easy to use but can be time consuming if the cerumen is hard and deep in the canal. Many workers who flush their own ears say they use peroxide, but use caution when attempting to create your own procedure.

And fourth is a new, affordable series of instruments that can be used by both hearing health care pros or the end user. These instruments come with a built-in, high-quality camera in addition to different tips or tweezers designed to address most issues caused by excess earwax. These units are easily paired with your smartphone and tablet and allow excellent visibility of the ear canal. Photos or videos of each procedure are possible, and the unit providing the tweezers supports real-time video sharing. This simply means that while examining an ear, you can invite another party via the internet to link into your examination and share the images in real time.

When it comes to managing an industrial hearing conversation program, the basic requirements include sound surveys, audiometric examinations, education and the provision of adequate hearing protection. During the education process, it’s our recommendation that employees who wear hearing protection should also be informed about their options should excess earwax impaction become an issue.

About the Author

Article provided by Garry Gordon, MS— CEO/Owner and Audiologist/Instructor at E.A.R. Inc