Health & Fitness

Home Health & Fitness

The function and importance of ear wax

Ear wax, or cerumen, is a yellowish, waxy, natural substance produced by glands in the skin of the outer ear canal of humans and other mammals to protect the ear canals from damage and infection. Ear wax consists mainly of shed skin cells, hair, and the secretions of the ceruminous and sebaceous glands of the outer ear canal.

Ear wax serves several important functions in the ear canal so removing it is not required. Ear wax protects the skin of the ear canal; assists in the cleaning and lubrication of the ear canal; and provides a form of protection against bacteria, fungi, insects and water build-up in the ear canal.


Types of ear wax

Interestingly, earwax varies in form, color, and appearance from person to person. There are two genetically distinct types of earwax — the wet type, which is dominant, and the dry type, which is recessive. The color and texture of the ear wax is dependent upon its composition. Asians and Native American populations usually have the dry, gray, flaky type of cerumen, while African and European populations are more likely to have the wet, honey-brown to dark-brown, soft type of cerumen.


Excessive wax build-up

The ear canals are self-cleaning. This means that ear wax and old sloughed off skin cells are automatically transported from within the ear canal to the outer opening of the ear by chewing and the other movements of the jaw. At this point, the ear wax usually dries up and falls out of the ear canal. Any noticeable wax deposit left at the edge of the outer ear can be gently wiped away using a towel.

Ear wax is only formed in the outer one-third of the ear canal, hence, when a person has a wax blockage deep inside the ear canal that rests against the eardrum, it is often because they have inserted a foreign object into their ear canals, pushing the wax deep into the canal.

Common causes of excessive wax build-up and wax blockage include placing small objects into your ears, like Q-tips, hair pins, earbuds, rolled cotton balls and paper, etc. A narrowing of the ear canal due to infections or diseases of the skin, bones, or connective tissue of the ear. Less production of the fluid form of cerumen due to aging of the glands that produce it as we get older. An overproduction of cerumen related to trauma of, or a blockage within, the ear canal.


Signs and symptoms of excessive wax

• Ear pain

• Itching

• Irritation

• Full feeling in the ear

• Hearing loss

• Dizziness

• Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)

• Reflex cough

• Odor

• Discharge


Guidelines to removing wax at home

Home treatments can be used to soften and remove excessive ear wax.

• Place a few drops of mineral oil, baby oil, sweet oil, hydrogen peroxide or commercial ear drops (available in most pharmacies) into the ear. Use finger to gently massage the oil into the ear canal. Wait 15 to 30 minutes. Use an ear syringe (available at the pharmacy) filled with warm water or saline to flush the ear. Water or saline should be at least body temperature warm to prevent dizziness. Gently squirt the solution into the ear canal to flush the wax out. This may need to be repeated several times to ensure all the wax is removed. Repeat the entire procedure once to twice per year.

Do not clean your ears at home if you have a perforation or hole in your eardrum, you have an ear infection, you have diabetes, you have tubes in the eardrum, you have skin problems such as eczema in the ear canal, or you have a weakened immune system.

Ear candling can result in serious injuries and is therefore not a safe method to remove ear wax.


Wax removal by medical professional

If you are unable to remove the wax at home, or if one of the above special conditions apply, please seek medical help to have the wax professionally removed. Your ENT or physician will be able to remove the wax safely in one of two ways — by syringing; or by using suction or special miniature instruments. A microscope will be used to magnify the ear canal. This method is usually used on patients with narrow ear canals, perforations, tubes, skin problems affecting the ear canal, diabetes or a weakened immune system.

Putting things in your ear only pushes the wax further down the ear canal and may also result in damage to the delicate ear system. Therefore, never stick anything in your ear, including Q-tips. Remember, the ear is self-cleaning. In the rare case you are a person who has excessive wax buildup or blockage and are unable to have the wax safely removed at home, seek help to have the wax softened and removed by a medical professional. If you are a person with constant wax impaction, or if you use hearing aids, have a routine ear check every six to 12 months to have any wax taken care of before it builds up.


• For further information on any hearing-related disorder, please contact Dr. Deborah Nubirth, doctor of audiology, in New Providence at Comprehensive Family Medical Clinic, Poinciana Drive at 356-2276 or 677-6627 or 351-7902 in Grand Bahama; or email

Lawnmower accidents cause thousands of foot injuries

It’s the summer and most persons enjoy being relaxed and spending time outside in nature, and having a well-manicured lawn and yard is beautiful and more enjoyable. To get this look, the lawn is mowed, either by a professional but more often by the homeowners themselves, but many don’t realize the caution that must be taken when mowing the lawn due to operating rotary-blade lawn mowers. The blades of a lawn mower whirl at 3,000 revolutions per minute and produce three times the kinetic energy of a .357 handgun. An injury with a rotary mower is the equivalent of having a 21-pound object dropped on your foot from 100 feet up. Further, these machines can throw an object like a rock or stone up to 20 feet away at a speed of 200 mph (miles per hour). There are still many foot injuries from power lawnmowers seen in the ER (emergency room) every summer, especially since some people continue to run the mower barefoot. Most of these injuries are preventable.

The United States (U.S.) Consumer Products Safety Commission estimates more than 37,000 Americans suffer a power mower-related injury each year. More than 9,000 children under age 18 are treated in U.S. emergency rooms for lawnmower injuries. Seventy-five percent of lawnmower injuries in children occur in little boys while 25 percent are in children younger than five years old. Every year, there are roughly 75 deaths from lawnmower injuries, with 20 percent of these deaths occurring in children. Lawnmower injuries are one of the leading causes of traumatic amputations in children, with 650 performed each year.


Lawnmower injuries

Most of the time, the lawnmower is being operated by someone else who accidentally backs up over or runs over the feet of a child or adult nearby. Sometimes, stones or other projectiles are thrown and can injure children. Adults are most likely injured by pulling a lawnmower over the top of their foot and leg, especially when working on a hill or embankments. Children are usually injured by either falling into the path of a mower while playing nearby, or by falling off the mower while riding as a passenger.

There can be a wide range of lawnmower foot injuries ranging from dirty, infection-prone cuts to severed tendons to amputated toes. They can also include broken bones, exposed tendons, burns, deep, soft tissue wounds, and even amputation of toes or even the leg.

If a mower accident occurs — even just a minor injury, immediate treatment is necessary to wash out the wound thoroughly and apply antibiotics to prevent infection. Superficial wounds can be treated on an outpatient basis. To help, it may be necessary to apply a tourniquet above the injury to stop the bleeding while waiting on the ambulance. Most serious injuries will usually require surgical intervention to repair tendon damage, deep clean the wound and suture it. Tendons severed in lawnmower accidents generally can be reattached surgically unless the toes or foot have been amputated.


Preventing lawnmower injuries

Children under the age of 14 and adults over age 44 are more likely to be injured from mowers. Here are a few simple precautions that we recommend to prevent injury when using a power mower.


For children

• The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children not be allowed to “ride” on daddy’s or grandpa’s lap while they mow the lawn.

• That no child under 16 years of age be allowed to ride on a lawnmower, even as a passenger.

• No child under 12 years of age be allowed to operate a walk-behind mower.

• And that children should remain indoors while lawn mowing is taking place. If children must be outdoors during lawn mowing, they should be at least 20 feet away.


For adults

• Use a grab-bar push mower if possible, which can stop immediately if necessary. Or use a mower with a release mechanism on the handle that automatically shuts it off when the hands let go.

• Wear long pants, eye protection and sturdy closed toe shoes to avoid tripping.

• Clear the lawn of debris like branches, nails, wires, and rocks that could be thrown by the mower. You can also keep the clip bag attached when operating a power mower to prevent projectile injuries.

• Never pull a running mower backward or mow in reverse and always stop to look for children before changing direction.

• Don’t mow a wet lawn. Losing control from slipping on rain-soaked grass is the leading cause of foot injuries caused by power mowers.

• Wear heavy shoes or work boots when mowing — never wear sneakers or sandals like flip-flops.

• Mow slowly across slopes, never go up and down.

• Always keep children away from the lawn when mowing it.

• Treat your injury right away and call 911 for any serious injury.

• Lawnmower safety means impressing upon children the importance of staying indoors while the mower is out. Supervision is crucial!

Education regarding the proper usage and safety of the lawnmower will help to lower the staggering incidence of injuries sustained by lawn mower accidents. Podiatrists, inform patients on proper shoes when operating a power lawn mower, as many injuries can be prevented. If you have suffered any sort of foot or ankle lawnmower injury, consult a podiatrist right away.


• For more information email or visit To see a podiatrist visit Bahamas Foot Centre on Rosetta Street, telephone 325-2996, or Bahamas Surgical Associates Centre, Albury Lane, telephone 394-5820, or Lucayan Medical Centre on East Sunrise Highway, Freeport, Grand Bahama, telephone 373-7400.


Respect for elders

Whilst I’m not trying to run anyone down or disrespect them, it is indeed a fact that the youngsters of today at the beginning of the 21st century do not have respect for elders like I used to as a child, and this is indeed very sad. Of course, the sad fact is that so many parents have not taught their offspring to be respectful to others, and in particular to their elders.

Of course, this tells us something more revealing, and that is that so many today have low self-esteem. Yes indeed, people with low self-esteem have no respect for themselves and when you have no respect for yourself — well then it automatically follows that you’ll have no respect for others. That’s right, as I emphasize over and over — everything starts with high self-esteem. When I have high self-esteem and thus love and respect myself, then, and only then, will I automatically love and respect others, especially my elders.

Actually, now that I think about it, the youth of today are a very disrespectful group as a whole, at least in The Bahamas where I presently reside. Now are there exceptions to this? Of course there are, as I know some really outstanding young people who are extremely mannerly to one and all. So I’m not trying to lump everyone into the same category at all. However, the fact remains that not enough people, in my humble opinion, have respect for elders and that’s a crying shame, for without basic respect for others a society will start to crumble and ultimately disintegrate.

Of course, a lot of this starts with parents trying to give their children literally everything they want — computers, iPads, iPhones, etc. The parents give the children too much today in my humble opinion, so this makes them feel that it’s all about them, that they’re the center of attraction and no one else matters. So please contribute to an orderly, mannerly society by teaching your children to have respect for others, particularly their elders.


• Think about it!
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Listen to “Time to Think” the radio program on STAR 106.5 FM at 8:55 a.m. & 6:20 p.m.


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