Earwax-induced hearing loss amplifies music lover’s appreciation for sounds

By Steve Newton

I did a really dumb thing last week: I went crazy with the Q-tips.

There’s a jar of them on our bathroom counter, and I thought I’d try one out to see how my earwax situation was. I knew that cleaning the inside of your ears with those cotton swabs was frowned upon by the medical establishment, but I figured, “Hey, you only live once.” I didn’t think it could hurt to give a careful little swirl around in there, see what shakes.

The last time my doctor had taken a look inside my ears he’d noticed some buildup, so I wasn’t surprised to see a fair whack of brown goo on the end of that little stick. I know, gross right? So I flipped the Q-tip over and used the other end, with similar nasty results.

Around that time my spontaneous curiosity morphed into some sick little game where I had to see how much of this greasy crap I could extract from my disgusting headholes.

Around eight Q-tips later the bad thing happened: my hearing suddenly became extremely muffled. I wasn’t too worried, ’cause I figured I’d just totally plugged my ear canal up with wax by moving it around like a dummy.

But for the first time in my life I could not hear well at all, and it’s not a good feeling.

I reckoned the sudden hearing loss wouldn’t last long, but after a couple of days of constantly saying “what?” and “huh?” to my family members I figured I’d better try and find a cure. Besides, I had a concert by Brit Floyd–the world’s best Pink Floyd tribute band–to see in a couple of nights, and wanted to actually hear it as opposed to just enjoying the light show.

So I toddled on down to the nearby Pharmasave–noticing how I could barely hear the “Wait!” instructions when I pushed the crosswalk button–and scored a Murine Ear Wax Removal System for eight or nine bucks. You’re supposed to put “5 to 10 drops” of that liquid in your ears and leave it in “for several minutes”, before flushing it out with warm water. As much fun as that sounds, the product’s promise of “effective relief from ear wax build-up” did not come true. I tried a few times, but that pesky wax wasn’t going anywhere.

In the meantime, my hearing seemed to be getting worse. I could barely hear the TV unless I cranked the volume way up, and I could forget about trying to digitize old interviews with rock legends for my Patreon page. Our house has squeaky floors, but instead of being able to tell when somebody’s approaching, now the wife and kids would suddenly appear out of total silence.

A pulsating noise also became very noticeable in my right ear. I’m not a medical doctor, but I’m pretty sure it was the sound of my heartbeat, amplified by my ear canal being clogged up. I checked the internet and started to think that maybe it was pulsatile tinnitus.

I started to imagine that maybe the issue wasn’t just a routine abundance of earwax, but something more serious. It was like that time back in 2015 when I saw blood in the toilet after poopin’ and worried that I might have ASS CANCER!, which led me to write a comical blog about my first colonoscopy.

Had I screwed up my hearing for good by jamming a Q-tip in too far? Was I gonna need a hearing aid? Would I be able to enjoy Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser’s guitar work on Blue Öyster Cult’s “Transmaniacon MC” at full volume ever again?

Things were getting a little freaky. It was time to seek professional help.

I couldn’t see my family doctor until Tuesday morning, and the Brit Floyd show was Monday night, so rather than go and risk getting deeply depressed that I couldn’t make out the wicked Strat action on “Comfortably Numb”, I stayed home. Also, I wasn’t sure if connecting a two-hour rock concert to an already pulsating eardrum was a great idea.

God damn those Q-tips all to hell!

The good news is, as soon as my doctor took a peek into my ears, he confirmed that harmless earwax was the culprit after all. What a relief it was, knowing I wouldn’t need ear transplants, and that my 21-year-old son was off the hook for donating his.

The doc proceeded to use a metal syringe to blast both my ears with warm water, and you don’t want to know about the foul-looking brown chunks that wound up floating in the basin we used to catch the water.

It looked like somebody had taken a coupla tiny craps in there, but more than being grossed out I was overjoyed that my hearing was back 100%. It’s true what Joni Mitchell said, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, because, after six days of near deafness, I have a deeply enhanced appreciation for sounds. Guitars, squeaky floors, crosswalk-indicator voices–I love ’em all.

Everyone who enjoys good hearing should take a moment to feel grateful and thank their lucky stars.

And, for cryin’ out loud, lay off the Q-tips.

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