A Trip to the Center of the… Ear Canal

The ear canal?  Well, yes, it is that place where two things intersect:  earwax and hearing aid (HA) ear buds.

Earwax types are genetically determined – no small wonder.  And earwax (aka cerumen) is made of skin cells and shampoo residue held together by the oily, waxy substance made by the glands in our ear.  Although we spend time getting rid of it, it does help keep our ear canals clean by trapping dirt that gets into the ear canal.  And there are two types:  wet – which is sticky and honey-colored, and dry – which is flaky and grayish yellow.

If you have genotype CC you’ll have wet earwax.
If you have genotype CT you still have wet earwax
If you have genotype TT you have dry earwax

But, wait, we have more!  I got genetic testing and I’m a CC – and my earwax is dry as the desert.  So how did this happen?

I got to thinking about when I was a kid.  I had – you guessed it – wet earwax – that sticky brown stuff.   Then, about 10 years ago or so I noticed that my ears itched all the time and my earwax was no longer very wet.  Nowadays it is white and flaky, like dandruff – and it clings to my ear canals like dried glue.

So what’s made the change?

It is well known that HA wearers have more buildup of wax in the ear.  And apparently – lucky us – we have more dermatitis in the ear canal.  Where?  Yup, that’s right – the skin of the ear canal can develop eczema and other skin problems.  Why?  Well, I’d like to blame the earbuds, but since people get dermatitis on other parts of the body as well – and I’m one of ’em, that’s probably only the catalyst.  I used to think I was allergic to the plastic until I got a silicon ear bud that was supposed to be hypoallergenic and there was no difference at all.  My ear still itched like crazy, I got breakdown of the skin, and lots of “otitis externa” (ear infections on the outside of the ear drum).

Took awhile to get this nailed down since skin doctors send you to ear doctors who send you to skin doctors who… you get the point.  But the ENT finally diagnosed dermatitis that was more than the persistent case of “swimmer’s ear” he kept treating me for.  Now there is a prescription ear drop I use from time to tim to clear up the itching and flaking.  He suggests using a few drops of baby oil at night between treatments with the prescription drop.

I don’t always remember to do it.  It’s hard to remember when you’re not shedding what looks like dandruff from your ear.  I do note that the ear without the hearing aid has a whole lot less going on with itchy, scratchy, flaky stuff than the side where I were the hearing aid more often.  I say “more often” since sometimes the ear canal gets so irate with me that I leave it out for a few days so the skin can heal.

I wonder how many HA wearers end up with dermatitis from wearing HAs.  Maybe just those of us with sensitive skin?  I’m also blessed with dermatographia – which means you can write on my skin with a fingernail and watch the welts in the precise pattern you made.

So… happy ear scratching to all of you.  And HA users – remember to get your ears professionally cleaned, waxed, buffed, and polished twice a year.  🙂

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