To Those Who Have Ears!

In the world of today’s youth, one major indicator that the guy or ‘babe’ is a ‘happening guy’ or that the ‘babe’ is digitally compliant, is to walk down the neighbourhood with headphones, listening to music!

And if in the car, the volume of the car stereo has to be at a high decibel. And while at home, the volume of the home theatre system must be very high.

Totally oblivious of the need to care for the ear, today’s youth is unaware of the damage he or she is doing to the ear.

How about the adult? He may not have a home theatre at home blaring at a high volume nor indulge in the fancy of making headphones a companion, yet he, too, like the young folks, is blissfully unaware of the damage he is doing to his ear, by his favourite habit of using cotton buds to clean the ear.

Indeed, before the evolution of cotton buds, old women (and men) in the village regularly used a feather plucked from an innocent hen to attend to an itching ear. Those saddled with the task of chasing the hen whose feather is about to be plucked, say the women experience a great sensation while cleaning the ear with the feather.

Apparently, using feathers to clean the ear, became ‘old school’. The women discarded the feather and started using match sticks!

Enter today’s digital woman. She too continued the tradition of cleaning the ear, but this time, instead of using the feather or match stick like grandma, she uses the white man’s invention: Welcome cotton buds!

But, how safe is this habit? What does one do when the ear is itching?

To Those Who Have Ears!


Placed slightly downwards and forwards on each ear lobe is the canal of the ear. It leads directly to the eardrum, which begins the function of hearing by vibrating to sounds that fall on it. Hence, the main function of the ear canal is receiving sounds from around us and directing it to the eardrum.

Usually, the ear canal is not straight, it is slightly curved like an ‘S.’ However, this curve varies in individuals, appearing more straight in some persons.

The canal has hairs at its entrance and pores (tiny holes from organs) along its walls. The hairs help to trap particles, living or not, such as dust, that are carried by air.


The wall of the ear canal is covered by skin which has pores from glands. The skin along this wall also sheds off dead cells, like other parts of the body, and when mixed with oils produced by glands of the canal, it forms Cerumen, otherwise known as earwax. Earwax also functions like the initial hair cells found at the opening of the canal. It traps dead cells, fallen hairs, particles from outside, & microbes (tiny living things). Over time, wax dries up and falls out of the ear on its own. In this way, earwax cleans up the ear canal regularly and naturally.


Earwax basically lines the walls of the canal. It is thick, does not flow fast, does not mix with water, and is not absorbed by your regular cloth or tissue paper materials. When using instruments such as earbuds, earwax sticks to them and some of it is pushed further into the canal. If these instruments are pointed, there is an increased risk of injury to the eardrum at the end of the canal.

In one particular study in Nigeria, published in the International Journal of Otolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery, it was found that objects commonly used to clean the ear include pen tips and covers, which could result in injuries such as infections of the ear. Other injuries include:

  • Eardrum perforation
  • Physical injury (wounds) to the canal
  • Pushing the wax to impaction
  • Inner ear infection, resulting from eardrum perforation

The practice of using earbuds and other objects to clean the ear is fairly common, even among the elite as one study finds. This is dangerous. Due to the structure of ear canals in some individuals, wax can find itself impacted, causing the following symptoms:

  • Reduced hearing in the affected ear
  • Earache/pain
  • Plugged or fullness sensation in the ear
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Itching
  • Ringing noise (tinnitus) in the ear

These symptoms can be unpleasant, but it is more dangerous to try to remove the wax using objects. Many people try to clean their ear canal themselves out of a habit of wanting to be clean. But this is not necessary. It is advisable to go see a doctor (perhaps one who specializes in treating the ear, called an ENT doctor). Also, a single drop or two of oils such as glycerine or olive oil for about a week will do the trick of removing the wax.

We should not take our ears for granted. Hearing loss is real!

Those who have ears should hear!

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