Definition

What is earwax blockage?

Earwax blockage, also called cerumen impaction, can occur when your body produces too much earwax or when existing wax is pushed too far into your ear canal. In some cases, you may not be able to hear out of the affected ear. But this typically lasts only until you can have the excess wax removed. In most cases, home treatment works well, but a doctor can also help eliminate and unplug earwax blockage.

How common is earwax blockage?

Earwax blockage is one of the most common ear problems doctors see. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of earwax blockage?

The common symptoms of earwax blockage are:

  • Earache
  • Feeling of fullness in the affected ear
  • Ringing or noises in the ear (tinnitus)
  • Decreased hearing in the affected ear
  • Dizziness
  • Cough

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes earwax blockage?

The wax in your ears is secreted by glands in the skin that lines the outer half of your ear canals. The wax and tiny hairs in these passages trap dust and other foreign particles that could damage deeper structures, such as your eardrum.

In most people, a small amount of earwax regularly makes its way to the opening of the ear, where it’s washed away or falls out as new wax is secreted to replace it. If you secrete an excessive amount of wax or if earwax isn’t cleared effectively, it may build up and block your ear canal.

Earwax blockages commonly occur when people try to clean their ears on their own by placing cotton swabs or other items in their ears. This often just pushes wax deeper into the ear, rather than removing it.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for earwax blockage?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is earwax blockage diagnosed?

Your doctor can determine whether you have earwax blockage by looking in your ear with a special instrument that lights and magnifies your inner ear (otoscope).

How is earwax blockage treated?

Your doctor can remove excess wax using a small, curved instrument called a curet or by using suction while inspecting the ear. Your doctor can also flush out the wax using a water pick or a rubber-bulb syringe filled with warm water.

If earwax buildup is a recurring problem, your doctor may recommend that you use a wax-removal medication, such as carbamide peroxide (Debrox Earwax Removal Kit, Murine Ear Wax Removal System). Because these drops can irritate the delicate skin of the eardrum and ear canal, use them only as directed.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage earwax blockage?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with earwax blockage:

  • Soften the wax. Use an eyedropper to apply a few drops of baby oil, mineral oil, glycerin or hydrogen peroxide in your ear canal.
  • Use warm water. After a day or two, when the wax is softened, use a rubber-bulb syringe to gently squirt warm water into your ear canal. Tilt your head and pull your outer ear up and back to straighten your ear canal. When finished irrigating, tip your head to the side to let the water drain out.
  • Dry your ear canal. When finished, gently dry your outer ear with a towel or hand-held dryer.

You may need to repeat this wax-softening and irrigation procedure a few times before the excess earwax falls out. However, the softening agents may only loosen the outer layer of the wax and cause it to lodge deeper in the ear canal or against the eardrum. If your symptoms don’t improve after a few treatments, see your doctor.

Earwax removal kits available in stores also can be effective at removing wax buildup. Ask your doctor for advice on how to properly select and use alternative earwax removal methods.

Don’t try to dig it out

Never attempt to dig out excessive or hardened earwax with available items, such as a paper clip, a cotton swab or a hairpin. You may push the wax farther into your ear and cause serious damage to the lining of your ear canal or eardrum/

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: September 18, 2017 | Last Modified: September 18, 2017

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