"The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven't changed in 70 or 80 years. Your body changes, but you don't change at all."
~ British novelist and poet, Doris Lessing
...And earwax is one of those things that changes in your body as you grow older.
According to HealthinAging.org, when you age, the outer part of your ear canal thins while the earwax gets drier and sticker.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, some adults may let earwax buildup go until it gets to the point where hearing is obstructed.
In addition, the eardrum may thicken, but the most significant change takes place in the cochlea. As you age, the cochlea experiences a loss of sensory cells and degenerative changes in the nerve fibers that carry information to the brain.
In fact, this changing combination of aging ears and earwax buildup leads to most cases of conductive hearing loss in older adults.
This makes sounds seem muffled. A hearing aid can also contribute to a wax blockage.
Keep reading to find out how, why, and steps you can take to prevent this...
Earwax in Older Adults
The amount of earwax produced varies from person to person and has nothing to do with your personal hygiene.
According to U.S. National Library of Medicine, some people – mostly men and older people– produce a lot of earwax. Too much earwax can cause problems in older people.
Less secretion is produced by the earwax glands (ceruminous glands) as they start to shrink, causing the earwax to dry out. Furthermore, dead skin particles build up continuously, and because the earwax dry, the ear’s ability to lubricate and clean itself is less effective.
The National Library said researchers estimate that removing an earwax plug can improve hearing by 10 decibels. The difference between quiet whispering and normal conversation is about 20 decibels.
There are also other things that can make it difficult for the ear’s self-cleaning process to work correctly, besides getting older. Cleaning your ears with cotton swabs, hair pins, or any small utensils risk causing further complications.
Conductive Hearing Loss
With this type of hearing loss, your hearing is muffled. It is typically caused by a build-up of ear wax, which blocks the ear canal and prevents sound from entering.
Your primary healthcare provider can diagnose and remove the wax if there is an excessive build-up. It is normal for all ears to have some wax as this helps to protect the outer ear canal.
Other causes of conductive hearing loss include:
- Infections in the skin lining the ear canal
- Fluid in the middle ear
- Arthritis that affects the bones of the ear
- Hole in the eardrum
However, none of these causes are very common in older people.
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