Earwax is produced by glands in the ear canal. Although scientists are still not completely sure why we have earwax, its purpose is to trap dust and other small particles and prevent them from reaching, and potentially damaging or infecting the eardrum. Normally, the wax dries up and falls out of the ear, along with any trapped dust or debris. Everyone makes ear wax, but the amount and type are genetically determined just like hair color or height. Smaller or oddly shaped ear canals may make it difficult for the naturally occurring wax to get out of the canal and lead to wax impactions.
The presence of some earwax is normal; earwax protects your inner ear from debris, such as bacteria and dust. Normally, the wax works its way out of your ear gradually so there is no blockage. However, you may develop a blockage if you push the wax deep into your ear or naturally produce an excess amount of earwax.
Using Cotton Swabs
If you try to get the wax out with a cotton swab or other object, you may end up pushing it further into your ear, creating an obstruction.
Natural Presence of Excessive Wax
Another possible cause of earwax blockage is that your body just makes more wax than it should. If this is the case, there may be too much wax for your ear to easily eliminate. If so, the wax may harden in your ear, making it less likely to work its way out on its own.
Signs and symptoms of earwax blockage may include:
- Ear noise (tinnitus)
- Decreased hearing in the affected ear
- Plugged or fullness sensation
- Ringing in the ear
- Itching or drainage from the ear canal
When to see a doctor
If you’re experiencing the signs and symptoms of earwax blockage, talk to your doctor.
Signs and symptoms could indicate another condition. You may think you can deal with earwax on your own, but there’s no way to know if you have excessive earwax without having someone, usually your doctor, look into your ears. Having signs and symptoms, such as earache or decreased hearing, doesn’t necessarily mean you have wax buildup. Even if you’ve had a past problem with earwax, you can’t be sure that wax buildup is the cause of your current symptoms. It’s possible you have another medical condition involving your ears that may need attention.
Wax removal is most safely done by doctor. Asking your doctor to remove earwax may seem unnecessary, but your ear canal and eardrum are delicate and can be damaged easily by excess earwax. Don’t try to remove earwax yourself with any device placed into your ear canal, especially if you’ve had ear surgery, have a hole (perforation) in your eardrum, or are having ear pain or drainage.
Children usually have their ears checked as part of any medical examination. If necessary, a doctor can remove excess earwax from your child’s ear during an office visit.
Your doctor may recommend that you try an earwax removal method at home, unless you have a perforation (hole) or a tube in your eardrum.
Over-the-counter wax softening drops such as Debrox or Murine may be put into the affected ear and then allowed to drain out after about five minutes while holding the head to the side, allowing the drops to settle. Sitting up again will let the drops drain out by themselves.
A bulb-type syringe may be used to gently flush the ear with warm water. The water should be at body temperature to help prevent dizziness.
Ear candling is not recommended. The procedure uses a hollow cone made of paraffin and beeswax with cloth on the tapered end. The tapered end is placed inside the ear, and an assistant lights the other end, while making sure your hair does not catch on fire. In theory, as the flame burns, a vacuum is created, which draws the wax out of the ear. Limited clinical trials, however, showed that no vacuum was created, and no wax was removed. Furthermore, this practice may result in serious injury.
What Can Be Expected in the Long Term?
Once you experience an earwax blockage, there is no guarantee that it won’t return. If your body produces an excessive amount of wax, you may have to deal with this condition several times in your life. Fortunately, earwax blockage is only a temporary issue, and your symptoms should disappear after you treat the condition.
Some people experience complications from earwax blockage, such as a fever, ear drainage, and severe ear pain. If you notice these relatively rare symptoms, you should contact your doctor to have the wax removed as soon as possible.