Earwax build-up, also known as cerumen impaction, occurs when the natural wax (cerumen) produced in the ear canal accumulates to an extent where it could potentially cause blockage, discomfort, hearing loss, tinnitus, and sometimes, infections and pain.

Earwax, a yellowish waxy material secreted in the ear canal, has in fact a protective role as it traps dust, bacteria, and other particles that could damage the eardrum. Usually, the process of chewing and other jaw movements help the earwax naturally move from the ear canal to the ear opening, where it eventually dries up and falls out.

However, in some cases, your gland may produce more wax than necessary. Instead of coming to the outer part of the ear and falling out, which it typically does, it hardens in the ear canal. Another reason for build-up could also be from the habit of cleaning the ears with cotton swabs or hairpins, which can push the wax further into the ear and cause a blockage.

Earwax buildup

Symptoms of earwax build-up include a feeling of fullness, tinnitus (ringing in ear), diminished hearing, dizziness, earache, and infection if left untreated. If you suspect an earwax impaction it’s best to seek medical attention, as attempts to remove it at home can further compact the wax or damage your ear.

Causes of Earwax build-up

Earwax, or cerumen, is a healthy part of your body’s defenses. It cleans, lubricates, and protects your ear canal by trapping dirt and slowing the growth of bacteria. However, for some people, earwax can accumulate and cause problems. There are several reasons why earwax might build up:

1. Personal Habit: Some people might unknowingly push the wax deeper into the ear, creating a blockage. This often happens when cleaning the ears with cotton swabs, hairpins, or other items.

2. Overproduction: Certain individuals may naturally produce too much earwax, causing a buildup. This can result in blockages that can lead to symptoms like hearing loss or discomfort.

3. Narrow or Curvy Ears: Some people have narrower or more twisted ear canals, making it difficult for the natural cleaning process to work effectively. As a result, wax can accumulate and harden.

4. Age: As you age, the earwax becomes harder and thicker, causing more blockages.

5. Hearing aids and earplugs: Regular use of these devices may prevent earwax from naturally exiting the ear, causing it to build up over time.

6. Skin Conditions: Skin conditions such as eczema can cause an excess production of earwax or lead to inflammation, creating a cerumen impaction.

Please seek medical assistance such as an otolaryngologist (ENT specialist) if you suspect you have an earwax blockage. Never try to dislodge the wax on your own as it may lead to eardrum damage.

Risk Factors of Earwax build-up

Earwax, or cerumen, is a natural substance produced by gums in the ear canal that cleans, protects, and lubricates the ears. However, excessive buildup can sometimes occur, leading to blockage. Here are some risk factors associated with earwax buildup:

1. Narrow Ear Canal: Individuals who naturally have smaller or narrower ear canals may experience earwax buildup more often. This is because there’s less space for the wax to exit the ear.

2. Excessive Ear Hair: Excessive hair in the ears can trap and hold onto wax, making it difficult for it to naturally drain out of the ear.

3. Ageing: The risk of earwax buildup increases with age, particularly in individuals over the age of 65. This is because earwax tends to get harder and more difficult to remove as you age.

4. Hearing Aids & Earplugs: Regular use of hearing aids or earplugs can interfere with the normal migration of earwax, causing it to accumulate over time.

5. Swimming: Regular swimming can lead to an increased production of ear wax.

6. Excessive Cleaning: Attempts to clean the ear canals, particularly with cotton swabs or similar objects, can often push wax deeper into the ear, causing blockages.

7. Skin Conditions: Certain skin conditions or disorders that affect the skin’s normal production of wax can also lead to earwax buildup.

You should consult with a healthcare professional if you experience symptoms of earwax impaction, such as pain in the ear, difficulty hearing, ringing or buzzing in the ear, or dizziness. Please remember that this information is meant as a general overview and does not replace professional medical advice.

Signs and Symptoms of Earwax build-up

Sure, earwax buildup, also known as cerumen impaction, can lead to several signs and symptoms. Here are some of them:

1. Earache or a feeling of fullness in the affected ear.

2. A sensation that the ear is plugged or obstructed.

3. Ringing, buzzing or other noises in the ear (tinnitus).

4. Decreased hearing in the affected ear.

5. Vertigo or a sense of imbalance.

6. An odor coming from the affected ear.

7. Discharge from the affected ear.

8. Cough.

These symptoms might occur in one or both ears. Pain is usually more common in cases where the wax has been pushed further into the ear by attempts to remove it, such as with a cotton swab or by wearing earbuds. If you’re experiencing severe symptoms, it’s recommended to see a healthcare provider to avoid damaging the ear while trying to remove the wax on your own.

Diagnosis Earwax build-up

Earwax build-up, also known as cerumen impaction, is a common health concern. Under normal circumstances, earwax protects the ear by trapping dust and microscopic particles to prevent them from reaching, and potentially damaging or infecting, the eardrum. Usually, your body naturally excretes excess earwax which dries up and falls out or gets washed away when you shower.

However, sometimes the ear produces more wax than can be easily excreted. When this happens, wax can build up in the ear canal and become hard and blocked. Factors that can contribute to this include the use of hearing aids or earplugs, which may prevent earwax from draining out of the ear canals normally. In addition, the natural process of wax removal may slow down as we age.

Symptoms of earwax build-up may include earache, feeling of fullness in the ear, tinnitus (a ringing or buzzing noise in the ear), hearing difficulty, dizziness, and even cough.

A healthcare provider can often diagnose earwax build-up during a physical examination, using a lighted instrument called an otoscope to look into the ear.

Treatment usually involves softening the wax with oils, eardrops, or sprays, and removing the impacted wax with special instruments or by flushing the ear canal with warm water (ear irrigation). If you have a history of ear problems, you should see a healthcare provider rather than trying to remove the earwax yourself.

Treatment of Earwax build-up

Treatment for earwax build-up can be done either at home or by a healthcare professional.

At home:
1. Ear Drops: Over-the-counter ear drops specifically aimed at softening earwax can be used. You should follow the instructions on the package or given by your healthcare provider.

2. Ear Irrigation: This technique involves using a syringe to gently pump warm water into the ear canal to help dislodge the wax. This should be done very gently to avoid damaging the ear.

3. Earwax Removal Kits: There are kits available that contain all the necessary tools and solutions to remove earwax at home

By Healthcare Provider:
If at-home treatments are not effective, then it is better to visit a healthcare provider who has the tools and expertise to safely remove the earwax.

1. Manual Removal: A healthcare provider might use a curette, a small curved instrument, to scrape out the earwax.

2. Ear Irrigation: Similar to the at-home version, a healthcare provider can perform ear irrigation. However, they could use a more specialized tool or machine that allows better control over the water pressure.

3. Microsuction: This involves a tiny device that sucks the earwax out of the ear canal.

4. Ear Drops: Similar to the at-home version, a healthcare provider may recommend prescription ear drops that are stronger than those available over the counter.

Remember not to insert any object into the ear to remove wax as this can cause damage. It’s important to remember that some people naturally produce more earwax than others and may require regular treatments.

Earwax build-up that is causing significant symptoms or blocking the entire ear canal, should be looked at by a healthcare provider. If you have symptoms such as loss of hearing, dizziness, or ear pain, you should seek medical attention.

Medications commonly used for Earwax build-up

Earwax build-up, also known as cerumen impaction, can sometimes be troublesome if left untreated. Several types of medications are available, mostly over-the-counter, to help soften the earwax making it easier to remove. They include:

1. Debrox or Murine Ear Drops (Carbamide Peroxide): This is a very common over-the-counter medication that works by softening and breaking up the earwax.

2. Cerumenex (Triethanolamine Polypeptide Oleate): This is a prescribed ear drop that helps to soften and wash out excessive earwax.

3. Hydrogen Peroxide Solutions: Another common remedy, it helps to soften and effervesce the earwax to remove it easily.

4. Olive Oil or Baby Oil or Mineral Oil: These types of oils are also quite common and works by softening the earwax so it can naturally move out of the ear.

5. Sodium Bicarbonate Drops: Sodium Bicarbonate ear drops can also be used to dissolve ear wax.

6. Saline solution: This may also be used to irrigate or clean out the ear.

Remember, these medications should be used appropriately, and only as directed. Not all situations are the same and it’s always best to consult with a health care professional before starting any new medication. If the earwax blockage persists, professional medical help should be sought as long-term earwax build-up can lead to complications.

Prevention of Earwax build-up

Earwax, or cerumen, is a natural substance produced by glands in the ear canal that has protective, lubricating, and antibacterial properties. However, too much earwax can lead to discomfort, hearing loss, tinnitus, or infection.

Here are some things you can do to prevent excessive earwax build-up:

1. Avoid Q-tips or Cotton Swabs: Contrary to popular belief, these can often push the wax deeper into the ear, leading to impaction, and may potentially injure the fragile skin of the ear canal or eardrum.

Ear wax 2

2. Use Wax Softening Drops: Available over the counter, these drops can help soften the wax so that it naturally exits the ear. However, they should not be used if you have a perforated eardrum or if you’re unsure about it.

3. Professional Cleaning: If you are prone to excessive wax production, regular check-ups with a healthcare professional or audiologist can help. They can remove the earwax safely, either manually or using specialized instruments or machinery.

4. Proper Ear Hygiene: When showering, allow warm water to enter your ears, then tilt your head to let it drain out, as this can help soften and clear the wax. However, avoid using high pressure water jets, as this could injure the eardrum.

5. Stay Hydrated: Drinking a lot of water helps prevent earwax build up because it aids in the body’s natural elimination process.

6. Avoid Other Items: Do not stick keys, bobby pins, or other items in your ear. These can also push earwax deeper and may cause injury.

Remember, some people naturally produce more earwax than others and the “excess” wax can still be within the normal range. But if you’re experiencing symptoms like hearing loss, vertigo, tinnitus, or a feeling of being plugged up, consult a healthcare provider for an evaluation, as your symptoms may not be merely due to wax.

FAQ’s about Earwax build-up

1. What is earwax build-up?
Earwax build-up, also known as cerumen impaction, happens when the wax produced in your ear canal gets hard or blocks the ear. This might cause symptoms such as hearing loss, tinnitus, or fullness and discomfort in the ear.

2. What causes earwax build-up?
The most common cause of earwax build-up is an attempt to clean the ear with cotton swabs. This often ends up pushing the wax further into the ear canal, causing impaction. Wearing hearing aids or earplugs also can result in excess earwax.

3. What are the symptoms of earwax build-up?
Common symptoms include earache, feeling of fullness in the affected ear, hearing difficulties, tinnitus, or even cough and dizziness.

4. How is earwax build-up treated?
Treatment usually involves removing the excess earwax. This can be done by a healthcare professional through methods such as ear irrigation, or at home with over-the-counter ear drops designed to soften the wax.

5. Can earwax build-up be prevented?
To prevent earwax build-up, avoid inserting any objects into the ear canal. It is generally unnecessary to clean the ears, as wax naturally moves towards the entrance of the ear and is washed away.

6. Is earwax build-up serious?
While earwax build-up is generally not serious, it can cause discomfort and affect hearing. In some cases, if left untreated, it can result in infection or damage to the eardrum.

7. When should I see a doctor for earwax build-up?
You should see a doctor if home treatments aren’t effective or if you experience symptoms such as severe ear pain, discharge from the ear, ringing or buzzing in the ear, or sudden loss of hearing.

8. How long does it take to remove built-up earwax?
Depending on the method used, earwax removal can take any time from a few minutes to a few days. Over-the-counter ear drops to dissolve wax typically require a few days of treatment.

9. Is earwax build-up more common in certain people?
Yes, some people are more prone to produce excessive earwax. Factors include age (more common in older adults and children), certain lifestyle habits, use of hearing aids, ear canal shape, and genetic factors.

10. What materials are used to remove earwax?
Healthcare professionals may use a cerumen spoon, forceps, or suction device for earwax removal. At home, over-the-counter kits typically include a solution to soften the wax and a small bulb syringe for irrigation.

Please consult with a health professional if you are experiencing any of these symptoms or believe you have an earwax build-up. Self-treatment can occasionally lead to complications like ear infections or damage to the ear canal or eardrum.

Useful links

Earwax, also known as cerumen, is a natural substance produced by glands in the ear canal that has protective, lubricating and antibacterial properties. The main work of the wax is to protect the ears from bacteria and other external agents. Sometimes, excessive earwax can accumulate in the ear because of poor personal hygiene, regular use of earphones, etc. and needs to be carefully removed.

Following are academic articles and journals that contain important information about earwax:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20546687/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12416492/

These resources should provide an extensive study of earwax buildup, its implications, and treatment procedures. Remember to consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice and treatment.

As a general rule, don’t use cotton swabs or other items to try and remove earwax yourself. This can push earwax further into the ear and cause additional problems.

Complications of Earwax build-up

Earwax, also known as cerumen, is a naturally occurring substance in the ear that protects the ear canal by trapping dirt and slowing the growth of bacteria. Usually, excess wax comes out naturally from the ear, but sometimes it accumulates and causes a blockage. This build-up can lead to various complications such as:

1. Hearing loss: When the ear canal is obstructed with hardened earwax, it can prevent sound waves from reaching the eardrum, thus impairing hearing.

2. Earache: The build-up can lead to discomfort, fullness in the ear and an achy feeling. Excessive earwax can cause sharp, sudden pains in the ear canal.

3. Tinnitus: Tinnitus is a ringing, buzzing or humming noise in your ears that can be a result of earwax build-up.

4. Vertigo: Vertigo, which produces a feeling of unsteadiness or a loss of balance, can be triggered by an excessive amount of earwax.

5. Infection or inflammation: When the wax is not removed correctly, it can cause infection and inflammation in the ear canal.

6. Eardrum damage: If you try to clean the build-up yourself, especially with a cotton swab or sharp object, you risk puncturing the eardrum which can lead to severe infections and permanent hearing loss.

7. Physical damage: Again, improper cleaning at home can lead to scratches or scrapes inside the ear canal, which could get infected.

It’s crucial to treat earwax build-up to prevent these complications and maintain ear health. If you’re unable to remove the buildup safely on your own, consider consulting a healthcare professional.

Home remedies of Earwax build-up

Here are some home remedies for earwax build-up:

1. Softening the earwax: This can be done by applying a few drops of baby oil, glycerin, mineral oil, or over-the-counter ear drops into the ear canal. Hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide may also be used.

2. Ear irrigation: This involves using a syringe to push room temperature water into the ear. The water should be drained out, which may carry out some ear wax. This method is not recommended for people with damaged eardrums or tubes in their ears.

3. Warm compress: Applying a warm cloth to the affected ear may help soften the earwax and relieve some of the pressure and discomfort.

4. Saline Solution: Using a saline solution can help to soften and dislodge the earwax. You can make the solution at home by dissolving 1 teaspoon of salt in 1/2 cup of warm water. Apply a few drops into your ear and then tilt your head to let it drain out after a few minutes.

Remember, never stick anything into your ear, like cotton swabs or sharp objects, to try to remove the earwax – this could push the wax further in or cause hearing loss by damaging the ear canal or eardrum.

If these methods are unsuccessful, or you develop symptoms like pain, drainage, hearing loss or dizziness, it’s important to seek medical help. A doctor or nurse can remove the earwax safely.

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Last Update: December 30, 2023