Medically known as cerumen, ear wax is a soft, natural substance secreted by the sebaceous glands lining the ear canal. While ear wax is constantly being produced by young and old alike, it can often build up, causing discomfort and sometimes pain. It is especially distressing for children and consequently of great concern for parents. But ear wax build upin kids is completely natural and generally not harmful, unless the build-up is so much that it is blocking thekid’s earcompletely.
While ear wax does seem a gross irritant, it actually is a protective substance that acts as a water repellent and helps to keep the ear clean and healthy. Dust, bacteria, tiny insects or any other foreign object gets trapped in the ear wax, before it can enter the inner ear and cause damage. The wax then dries and falls out, and the ear stays clean. Especially for children, this natural cleansing and automatic protection of the delicate and sensitive inner ear is beneficial.
But if the ear wax builds up to the extent that it is blocking the ear canal, partially or completely, a number of problems may arise. Firstly, there may be partial hearing loss, and secondly, if the excess wax becomes hard and abrasive, there may be pain. Moreover, excessive ear wax can also lead to coughing and a tickle in the throat because the ears share the same nerves with the throat.
However, parents should never probe into the ear to try and remove the wax. Not even with a cotton swab, because a swab may become lodged too deep or worse, the child could move suddenly and the swab could puncture the ear drum. One safe way to remove excess wax from a kid’s earis by irrigation. The child’s head is tipped to one side and the ear canal filled with baby oil, mineral oil or hydrogen peroxide through an eye dropper. The head is kept in this position for five minutes, after which it can be straightened. A towel placed outside the ear will collect the liquid that escapes. A second and probably better option is to consult your paediatrician or family physician who will try to scoop out the wax with a curette( a very small plastic ring at the end of a plastic handle), or wash out the wax by squirting warm water into the ear canal.
A child could be suffering from ear wax build up or an ear infection if s/he is constantly rubbing or pulling his or her ear. Generally, if it is the former, a build up will be visible and there might be a yellow or brown drainage. On the other hand, if it is an ear infection, the drainage will more likely be clear, bloody or milky and it will in all likelihood be accompanied by fever and pain.
If a child has regular earwax build up, then the child’s doctor can show some simple rinsing treatments which can be done at home. The child can be given some medication also to prevent build up.
But as a general rule, avoid cleaning a toddler’s ears too often. If a child is dehydrated the wax may become hard and dense, so plenty of liquids should be given to kids.
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