Why Is Earwax in Your Ear?
Earwax (also called cerumen) is secreted by the ceruminous glands in your outer ear canal. It lubricates the canal and helps maintain an acidic environment that curbs development of harmful bacteria and fungi.
Earwax also cleans your ear canal. When you speak, chew, or yawn, your jaw’s movement pushes the earwax away from your eardrum and down your slightly sloped ear canal. As the earwax heads toward your outer ear, it collects the dirt and debris.
Life without earwax would be a lot less comfortable, because the cleaning action keeps the dirt and debris from damaging your eardrum and keeps your ears from feeling itchy and dry.
Earwax levels vary from one person to the next, depend on age or gender, and are determined by other factors as well.
When Should Earwax Be Removed?
You normally don’t need to remove earwax — your ears naturally handle that function.
But in some people, the ear glands produce more wax than necessary, leading to earwax blockage. Those who use hearing aids, wear earplugs, or push objects such as cotton swabs into their ears can also be prone to blockage.
The excess buildup may cause one or more symptoms such as the following:
- Itching, odor, or drainage
- Partial hearing loss
- Sensation of a plugged ear or fullness in the ear
- Tinnitus (humming, ringing, or buzzing in the ears)
- Pain in the ear
- Vertigo, dizziness, or balance problems
When earwax builds to the point of causing one of these symptoms, it’s time to clean it out.
What Are the Dos and Don’ts of Ear Cleaning?
DO use a warm, soft cloth — after washing or showering — to remove normal amounts of earwax at the outer ear, if needed.
DO gently soften the earwax with drops of warmed olive oil, almond oil, water, or a commercial solution to remove larger amounts of earwax or an earwax plug.
DO try irrigating the ear by gently rinsing it out with water.
DON’T use ear candles, which may cause serious injury and have not been proven effective in limited clinical trials.
DON’T stick cotton swabs or other objects in the ear; they can cause injury and push wax farther into the ear canal.
When Should I See a Hearing Care Professional?
Sometimes earwax buildup requires the attention of a professional who can examine your ears, determine the nature of the problem, and customize a treatment.
Treatment may include prescribing ear drops, applying wax-dissolving agents, using a suction technique, or providing another appropriate solution.
Consult your hearing care professional if one or more of the following applies:
- Your symptoms persist, especially pain or hearing loss
- Home remedies seem ineffective
- Earwax buildup is blocking your ear canal
- Your eardrum may be perforated or punctured
If you or a loved one is experiencing difficulties with earwax, contact us for an evaluation and customized treatment options for your individual needs. We can help with all your questions and concerns.