You may not give a second thought to that yellow wax-like substance in your ear, that is until you develop an ear infection or blockage. While it may be something that you ignore most of the time, earwax is essential for keeping your ears clean and healthy.

But sometimes earwax will build up in your ear because your body has produced too much of it, or if you’ve been a little too vigorous with cleaning your ears. Earwax build-up can be extremely uncomfortable or even painful and lead to a variety of other problems. Here are some useful facts on earwax and what you can do if you have earwax build-up.

What is earwax?

Cerumen is the medical name for that waxy goo in your ears more commonly referred to as earwax. While some people may be keen to get rid of it as soon as they spot it in their ears, in fact earwax traps any dirt, dust or foreign particles in our ears that can cause damage. The wax will then gradually work its way up and out of your ear where it sits in your outer ear until it dries up and falls out or is 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, 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 colour from person to person, so if you have dark-coloured 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 odour 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.

How to remove earwax

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. 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 which 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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