Ear wax removal

Earwax, that yellow waxy goo that you sometimes notice in your ears, plays an essential role in keeping your ears clean and healthy. 

But if your body produces too much of it or you inadvertently push the wax further into your ear, it can lead to earwax build-up. While this can be uncomfortable, sometimes even painful, it can also affect your hearing, cause infections, and a variety of other problems. Here are some interesting facts on earwax that can help you to look after your ears and know what to do if they get blocked.

What is earwax?

Earwax, or cerumen, is a wax-like oil substance produced in your ear canal to protect your ear from dust, dirt, and any foreign particles that could cause damage if allowed to go further into the ear. Earwax also protects the skin that lines the ear canal which could become irritated by water that enters the ear. Earwax will normally work itself up the ear canal into your outer ear where it will either fall out or be washed away when you shower or bathe.

Causes of earwax build-up

Sometimes your body may make more earwax than required. However, this doesn’t automatically lead to a blockage. Earwax blockage most often happens when you try to remove the earwax yourself by using cotton swabs, bobby pins, or your finger, and unintentionally push the wax deeper into your ear. You are also more likely to have earwax build-up if you regularly use earphones or hearing aids which can inadvertently stop earwax from being able to come out of the ear. Other potential causes of earwax build-up and blockage include:

  • Skin conditions inside the ear
  • Narrow or very hairy ear canals
  • Ear infections
  • Bony obstructions in the ear 

Signs of earwax build-up

Earwax can vary in color from person to person, so if you have dark-colored earwax, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have a blockage. If you don’t remove earwax build-up you risk developing one of several potential ear diseases such as an ear infection or tinnitus. Common signs of earwax build-up include:

  • A temporary sudden or partial hearing loss
  • Ringing in the ear (tinnitus)
  • A feeling of fullness in your ear
  • Earache
  • Discharge or odor from the ear
  • Dizziness
  • A fever or cough

Dizziness, hearing loss, and earache can be caused by something else other than a blocked ear. If these symptoms persist or you are worried about your ears you should see your doctor.

What to do if your ear is blocked

Never use your fingers, cotton swabs, or any other object for earwax removal. This can cause serious damage to your ear and push the wax deeper down into your ear. If the earwax is only causing you minor issues, then ear drops or mineral oil, olive oil, or glycerin can be used to soften the earwax so it can fall out by itself.

How to remove earwax

There are several treatments for clogged ears that remove earwax, for example:

  • Ear drops: These are used several times a day over a few days to soften the earwax so it can fall out on its own
  • Ear irrigation: A quick procedure that involves an electric pump to push water into your ear and flush out the earwax
  • Micro-suction: A small vacuum-type device is used to suck out the earwax from your ear
  • Aural toilet: A thin instrument with a small hoop scrapes out the earwax and cleans your ear
  • Ear candles: An earwax removal candle is inserted into the ear to pull the wax out of your ear canal. However, this can cause punctured eardrums or burns to the ear and face, so should only be done under medical advice.

Not all of these treatments will be suitable for everyone. It’s a good idea to get medical advice about what treatments may work best for you.

If you have any concerns about your hearing health, schedule a consultation with a hearing care professional or your doctor for advice on the appropriate treatment.

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