DEAR DR. DONOHUE: About every three months, my ears fill up with wax. I know when it’s happening because my hearing drops off and my ears start to ring. I go to the doctor to get the wax out, but I would like to do this on my own. How do I go about it? My sister-in-law says candling works. How? – K.J.

ANSWER: Earwax is not without redemptive qualities. It prevents the lining of the ear canal from drying out. It’s a protective barrier against infections. It’s slightly acidic, and that controls bacterial growth.

Most ear canals are like self-cleaning ovens. They have a conveyor belt that imperceptibly moves wax out of the canal. Some people, however, are wax super-producers, and others have a poorly functioning conveyor belt. They are the people whose ears plug up with wax from time to time.

It’s perfectly fine to remove wax from your ears if you don’t get too aggressive about it, if you don’t have a perforated eardrum and if you haven’t had previous ear surgery.

Put a drop or two of a wax softener in the affected ear and let it stay there for as long as indicated by the directions, usually around 15 minutes. Cerumenex and Debrox are two easy-to-find preparations. Warm mineral oil works, too. With a bulb syringe, obtainable in a pharmacy, gently irrigate the canal with warm – not hot – water. When irrigating, turn your head upward and toward the shoulder of the target ear.

If the wax doesn’t come out easily, stop and let the doctor do the job. Don’t use a cotton swab to dig the wax out. You’ll only push it farther in, and you might damage the eardrum.

Candling? I’m not a fan of it. The candle is a hollow, conical affair, made of wax cloth, with a narrow end and a wide end. The narrow end is gently inserted into the ear, and the wide end is lit. This is supposed to create suction that draws wax out of the canal. I find it ineffective, unsafe and a fire hazard.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: After eight years of suffering from boils, I am at my wits’ end. I have been doing some research and found a possible explanation for my problem. I believe I have hidradenitis suppurativa. I have had no luck finding a doctor who knows what this is.

Could you please shed some light on it for me and for others who might have it too? – S.L.

ANSWER: Hidradenitis suppurativa is a skin condition difficult to have and difficult to treat. It comes from blockage of glands found under the arms, in the groin, on the buttocks or under the breasts. The blocked glands are breeding grounds for bacteria. The infecting bacteria causes them to swell and form tender, red bumps that look very much like boils. The bumps often burst and ooze pus. They can then become open sores that eventually heal but leave thick scars. They can also form tunnels under the skin.

Oral antibiotics along with injection of cortisone drugs into the bumps can sometimes control them. Antibiotic ointment applied to the skin also helps.

Surgical procedures offer a solution for situations that don’t respond to the above treatment. One such procedure is to remove swatches of involved skin and replace them with skin grafts.

You can find doctors who treat this condition frequently. Just about every dermatologist has had experience with it.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have had diabetes for 16 years, and I am 73 now. In the past year I have had trouble getting an erection. Can diabetics take Cialis? How does it work? I don’t take any medicine other than the diabetes medicine, and I am a pretty physically active person. – B.C.

ANSWER: If you don’t take nitroglycerin or other nitrate medicines (chiefly used for heart disease), if you haven’t had a heart attack or a stroke in the past six months and if your doctor hasn’t put it off limits, you and other diabetics can take Cialis, a newer medicine for erectile dysfunction. Two others are Viagra and Levitra.

All three work by enhancing blood flow into the penis.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My son is going camping this summer and is supposed to bring water purification tablets to prevent something called beaver fever. What is that? – R.K.

ANSWER: It’s a diarrhea illness caused by an organism with the name of Giardia lamblia. That organism often infects streams, and beavers are one of the sources of the infection. Beavers are not the only animals that can transmit this illness. Other animals and human beings can also pass it on.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.