Treatments

Ear wax removal

What Is Earwax Buildup?

Your ear canal produces a waxy oil called cerumen, which is more commonly known as earwax. This wax protects the ear from dust, foreign particles, and microorganisms. It also protects ear canal skin from irritation due to water. In normal circumstances, excess wax finds its way out of the canal and into the ear opening naturally and then is washed away.

When your glands make more earwax than is necessary, it may get hard and block the ear. When you clean your ears, you can accidentally push the wax deeper, causing a blockage. Wax buildup is a common reason for temporary hearing loss.

You should take great caution when trying to treat earwax buildup at home. If the problem persists, visit your doctor. Treatment is generally quick and painless, and hearing can be fully restored.

Causes of Earwax Buildup

Some people are prone to produce too much earwax. Still, excess wax doesn’t automatically lead to blockage. In fact, the most common cause of earwax blockage is at-home removal. Using cotton swabs, bobby pins, or other objects in your ear canal can also push wax deeper, creating a blockage.

You’re also more likely to have wax buildup if you frequently use earphones, which can inadvertently prevent earwax from coming out of the ear canals and cause blockages.

Signs and Symptoms of Earwax Buildup

The appearance of earwax varies from light yellow to dark brown. Darker colors do not necessarily indicate that there is a blockage.

Signs of earwax buildup include:

  • sudden or partial hearing loss, which is usually temporary
  • tinnitus, which is a ringing or buzzing in the ear
  • a feeling of fullness in the ear
  • earache

Unremoved earwax buildup can lead to infection. Contact your doctor if you experience the symptoms of infection, such as:

  • severe pain in your ear
  • pain in your ear that does not subside
  • drainage from your ear
  • fever
  • coughing
  • persistent hearing loss
  • an odor coming from your ear
  • dizziness

It’s important to note that hearing loss, dizziness, and earaches also have many other causes. You should see your doctor if any of these symptoms are frequent. A full medical evaluation can help determine whether the problem is due to excess earwax or another health issue entirely.

Earwax in Children

Children, like adults, naturally produce earwax. While it may be tempting to remove the wax, doing so can damage your child’s ears.

If you suspect your child has earwax buildup or a blockage, it’s best to see a pediatrician. Your child’s doctor may also notice excess wax during regular ear exams and remove it as needed. Also, if you notice your child sticking their finger or other objects in their ear out of irritation, you might want to ask their doctor to check their ears for wax buildup.

Earwax in Older Adults

Earwax can also be problematic in older adults. Some adults may let wax buildup go until it gets to the point where hearing is obstructed. In fact, most cases of conductive hearing loss in older adults is caused by earwax buildup. This makes sounds seem muffled. A hearing aid can also contribute to a wax blockage.

How to Get Rid of Excess Earwax

You should never attempt to dig out earwax buildup yourself. This can cause major damage to your ear and lead to infection or hearing loss.

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