Earwax build-up

Most people don’t give much thought to that yellow waxy substance that occasionally appears in their ears.

But while you may pay little attention to it, that is until you have a blockage or ear infection, earwax has a crucial role in keeping your ears clean and healthy. But sometimes our body can produce too much earwax, resulting in an earwax build-up which can lead to problems.

Here are some useful facts on earwax and what you can do if you have earwax build-up.

What is earwax?

Cerumen, better known as earwax, is produced by your ear canal to protect the ear and keep it clean. This waxy oil substance catches and traps any dust, dirt or foreign particles that could otherwise damage the ear. Earwax also protects the skin that lines the ear canal so it doesn’t become irritated by water that comes into the ear as you swim or wash. The earwax will eventually work its way up and out of your ear and then either fallout or be washed away when you 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 buds, hairpins, or your finger, and unintentionally push the wax deeper into your ear. You are also more likely to have earwax build-up if you have eczema in your ear, narrow or hairy ear canals or regularly use earphones or hearing aids which can inadvertently stop earwax from being able to come out of the ear.

Signs of earwax build-up

The colour of earwax varies from person to person, while someone may have earwax that’s a light orange colour, another person may have earwax that’s dark brown – so don’t worry if you notice that your earwax is a different colour to someone else. While it’s important to be careful when cleaning or putting anything in your ears, leaving earwax build-up to go untreated could lead to 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
  • Fluttering in ears

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 or ear syringing: A quick procedure that involves an electric pump to push water into your ear and flush out the earwax
  • Ear suction tool: 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.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide: it can be used to clean ears and can offer a gentle and effective solution for addressing earwax buildup. Typically, a diluted solution of hydrogen peroxide and water is prepared, ensuring a safe concentration for ear application.
  • Massage ear wax out: while professional medical assistance is always recommended for severe cases, there are steps one can take to prepare for massaging ear wax out at home or softening it. 

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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