Ear wax occurs naturally in everyone. It is also known as cerumen, and this substance works to bind with dirt, debris, and other particles that enter into the ear canal. Binding to them prevents them from entering too deeply into the ear canal and causing damage to the ears or rest of the body. Ear wax also repels water and can seal off the ear canals and help prevent ear infections.
While ear wax does provide critical functions, excessive buildup could cause hearing loss or other health issues. For individuals that produce too much ear wax, there are procedures that can be used to extract it and remove any blockages. However, ear wax removal procedures are not widely covered for most Medicare recipients.
How is Ear Wax Removal Done?
The body has a natural process of removing ear wax, which is usually sufficient for most people. The wax slowly works its way out of the ear, taking all of the dust and debris it has collected with it. This occurs once the wax has dried out. It can then be moved out of the ear canal with jaw movements, such as chewing and talking.
However, some people produce ear wax at a rate faster than it can clear itself out. This becomes more common with age. In fact, the ear canal may become obstructed due to ear wax buildup in about 10 percent of children, 20 percent of adults, and 30 percent of older adults.
One of the most commonly used at-home remedies for ear wax removal includes using a cotton swab or Q-tip. This process seems relatively harmless and provides a seemingly quick solution for many individuals. However, the risk for ear and hearing damage is actually quite high with this approach. Cotton swab use may result in ear wax being pushed back farther into the ear and could cause an impaction. The eardrum could also be punctured if the Q-tip is not used carefully.
To avoid these potential issues, there are a variety of ear wax removal procedures that can be performed by your physician. These procedures are fairly quick and provide a much safer alternative. Ear wax can be removed by extraction, which involves pulling the wax out of the ear with a curette that has a hook or loop on the end of it. This is done with camera guidance to ensure it is completed properly.
Other methods of removal include suctioning or irrigation. A suctioning device can be placed in the ear canal to suck out the excess wax. However, if the wax is hardened, a saline solution may need to be injected into the ear using a syringe to soften the wax. Then, another solution may be injected to flush the wax out.
Do Medicare Benefits Include Ear Wax Removal?
Medicare only covers procedures deemed to be medically necessary. Ear wax removal does not usually fall into that category. In fact, Original Medicare benefits do not provide coverage for any hearing exams or hearing aids. This means that all ear wax removal procedures will need to be paid for out of pocket.
There may be exceptions to coverage, especially if you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan. These Medicare Part C plans are provided through private insurers that are approved by Medicare. They include the same Part A and Part B coverage as Original Medicare, but many MA plans may provide additional coverage, such as hearing, vision, or dental care.
Medicare recipients enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan may be entitled to coverage for ear wax removal procedures, but it may be approved on a case-by-case basis. If you feel that you are suffering from excess ear wax and that it is affecting your hearing, be sure to contact your physician and your Medicare provider to see what options are available and if any procedures are covered.