Blocked ears are a common complaint in adults and children, frequently the result of an obstruction or infection of the ear canal. The most common blockages are often self-inflicted, the result of cotton buds being used to attempt to clean the ear canal. This often pushes ear wax deep into the canal. Ear wax consists of secretions by the sebaceous and sweat glands. These ordinarily maintain the condition of the ear by cleaning, lubricating and protecting the lining of the ear. It also traps dirt, repels water and has antibacterial properties. Other causes of blocked ears are infection/colds/flu and otosclerosis, an uncommon condition caused by abnormal growth and development of bones of the middle ear.
- Hearing loss
- Dizziness or loss of balance
- A ringing sound (tinnitus)
- Discharge or bleeding
Children are susceptible to a number of ear conditions. Those who spend a lot of time swimming or engaged in water sports often succumb to otitis externa or swimmer's ear, an infection of the outer ear and ear canal. Sustained exposure to water weakens the lining of the ear canal, and bacterial and fungal infections occur. Children, by nature, are inclined to insert suitably shaped objects (such as food or toys) into their ears. If unobserved, this can result in infection. Infections typically take a few days to clear, with medical opinion now tending to avoid the unnecessary use of antibiotics, particularly in children over two years of age. Rest is often all that is required.
Ears are self-cleaning, so avoid using the aforementioned cotton bud to clean your ears. Wax is ordinarily excreted from your ears naturally, so allow the natural fats and oils in your ear canal to do their job of cleansing the ear of particles. If wax does build up a little olive or almond oil can help to soften the wax and enable it to be discharged. Wax-softening drops can also be bought from retailers/pharmacists. Complementary therapists recommend ear candling, which involves the insertion of a hollow "candle" into the ear with the external end lit. The heat generated by the flame creates a negative pressure encouraging the contents of the ear to be drawn out.
In extreme cases the wax may need to be syringed out by a medical doctor or nurse. A persistent build up of wax in the ears could also be due to an underlying medical condition which an ear specialist/otologist could help diagnose. A medical practitioner should also be consulted to remove any foreign objects lodged in the ear canal. Ears should also be allowed to dry naturally, with ear plugs an option for those who require protection during extended exposure to water. Consult your doctor/otologist or naturopath if in doubt.