FAQs – Ear Conditions


Q: Why do my ears often get blocked by wax? What should I do? Are there any drops that can dissolve the wax?

A: Everyone’s ears produce wax. Wax has antibacterial properties and is useful in protecting the ear against infections. The outer ear canal has a self-cleaning mechanism that brings wax and dirt from the inner part of the outer ear outwards. The best is to leave the ears alone. If wax builds up and blocks the ear canal, a doctor can remove it. Eardrops such as Tropex, Waxsol only soften earwax. It does not dissolve wax.

Q: What are the best ear diggers to clear wax from my ears?

A: This is a trick question. Clearing earwax with ear diggers, cotton buds is not advised and so there is no ‘best’ ear digger.

Q: I get a smelly discharge from my right ear everytime I take a bath. There is no pain or hearing loss. Is that a problem?

A: A smelly discharge may indicate an ear infection. Water tends to aggravate the problem. If the discharge persists, please see your family doctor first who refer you for ear cleaning if necessary.

Q: What is Ear Candling? Does it work?

A: Ear candling is an ancient method of clearing wax from the ear. It supposedly works when hot air caused by the candle flame results in convention currents in the ear canal which then sucks wax out of the ear. However, numerous studies have shown that is does not work at all. The wax you see after the procedure is the wax from the candle!

Q: My two year old child is starting to talk but the words are not clear. He frequently misses the ‘Fs’, ‘Cs’ and ‘Ts’and says ‘or’ when it should be ‘four’, ‘ar’ when it’s ‘car’ and ‘oi’ when it’s ‘toy’. He had a hearing screening test at birth and it says his hearing is normal. What should I do?

A: The first thing that should be said is that it’s good the hearing screening test at birth is normal. There are many reasons why a two year old child has unclear speech. It may be just a normal phase in speech development. However, if it persists he should have his ears examined. Sometimes, hearing can be affected from wax or fluid build-up in the middle ear space. The child can still hear but will hear speech as muffled sounds and reproduce the same muffled sounds when talking. It is also prudent to check for tongue-tie, which means short tongue. You can check for this condition by asking the child to point the tongue upwards. If there is a web-like structure holding the tongue down, he may have tongue-tie affecting pronunciation.

Q: I suddenly lost my hearing in one ear when I woke up this morning. There has been a ringing sound in that ear ever since. What is the cause? Is there something I can do?

A: Whenever hearing is suddenly lost in one ear with or without ringing in that ear, an audiogram (hearing test) should be done immediately to confirm if there is a hearing loss and if so, how severely the hearing is affected. The cause of the hearing loss may be a viral infection of the inner ear leading to Sudden Onset Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSNHL). The importance of making diagnosis is to commence treatment early. The window period for treatment is within one week from onset of symptoms, preferably within two days.

Q: Will the use of MP3 players cause hearing loss?

A: This is a question I get often from parents of young adults. The answer is dependent on a few factors which include number of hours of use per day, loudness of music and kind of music. A recent US poll in 2004 showed more than half of American teens experience some degree of hearing loss as a result of excessive use of MP3 players. However, this report was a poll and not a controlled study and the conclusions should be scrutinized before accepting them. Personally, the use of MP3 players in moderation should not have any significant impact on hearing.

If you like to pose a question to Dr Chee, please email gchee@gcheeent.com and he’ll get back to you within one to two days (unless it’s the weekend).

Dr Gerard Chee

MBBS (S'pore), FRCS (Edin), FRCS (Glasg) Fellow, Otology / Neurotology (Can)

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