Ear wax might not seem like a big deal, but for people who are hard of hearing or have issues with their middle ear, a build up of the substance can seriously impact their quality of life. Many people use cotton swabs to clean ear wax, but that can cause irritation and push wax deeper into ears, leading to blockages and infections. Others with more severe buildups depend on regular visits to the doctor.
Now a startup called Clear Ear wants to make it easier for people to keep their ears healthy with two products. One, the Oto-Tip, is meant for basic daily cleaning. The other, called TEC Home, is designed to remove ear wax plugs. The company is currently raising money for both in a flexible funding campaign on Indiegogo. Backers can also donate to Clear Ear’s Here and There program in Varni, India, where it is partnering with Healthy Scholars and the Community Center for Development (CCD) to hold a health screening camp for students.
Clear Ear started as a class project at the Stanford Biodesign Program, where co-founders Lily Truong, a biochemical engineer, and Dr. Vandana Jain, an eye surgeon, met.
“Together we discovered that the number one cause of treatable impaired hearing worldwide is ear wax buildup. I’ve had firsthand experience with hearing impairment after my mother went deaf in her left ear years ago and have seen that ear health is a space that hasn’t seen a lot of innovation,” says Truong.
Ear wax buildup occurs when an ear canal’s self-cleaning mechanism is interrupted, she explains. Causes can include wearing ear buds or hearing devices for long periods of time. Some people also produce too much ear wax. Children have smaller ear canals and elderly people’s ear wax changes in consistency, making them more susceptible to buildup and ear wax plugs.
“For most people without ear wax plug problems, proper ear cleaning is still a big deal just because of the frequency that people clean their ears with harmful objects whether they have buildup or not,” Truong adds.
Clear Ear aspires to become the “Sonicare of ear cleaning.” The Oto-Tip has a soft, flexible spinning tip that directs ear wax out of the ear canal, instead of deeper into it (as cotton swabs tend to do), and is designed to protect the ear drum with a blue cap that prevents it from being pushed too far. Unlike cotton swabs, the Oto-Tip does not dry out ear canals.
The TEC Home is designed to be an alternative to deep ear cleanings at doctors, during which water jets are injected into the ear canal with a metal syringe. The device heats up water to body temperature to prevent dizziness, sprays water to the sides of the ear canal, and then suctions out water and wax.
“The idea is that if you can clean your ears at home every so often, that will make the larger buildups less likely,” says Truong.
The Here and There program’s goal is to “promote better ear health both at home and across the globe.”
“In my travels abroad, I met a student who thought he had been deaf for two years, but it ended up just being an ear wax plug. Once it was removed, he could hear again. I’ve previously seen people use really dangerous methods to clean out ear wax like safety pins, ear candling, and bobby pins. I remember meeting one student who cleaned his ears with a piece of chalk that broke off in his ear, blocking his hearing until it was cleared out,” says Truong.
In addition to hearing, the Healthy Scholar’s Health Screening Camp will also focus on thyroid, vision, dental, and girls health. Backers of Clear Ear’s campaign can chose to contribute to Here and There–$20 will provide a ear health screening and cleaning for a student in Varni. The Oto-Tip is $30, while the TEC Home is $100. Both devices have an estimated delivery date of December 2014.
For more information, check out Clear Ear’s Indiegogo page.