Ear wax or cerumen is produced in the outer part of the ear canal. It traps particles of dust and dirt and repels water, protecting the delicate eardrum from damage. The wax is moved outward gradually by the lining of the ear canal, carrying any dirt it has trapped. Eventually, the wax dries and falls out of the ear in small unnoticeable flakes.
The ear canal can become blocked with wax if too much wax is produced or if the ear is cleaned improperly. If you push cotton swabs, pencils, your finger or other objects in your ear canal to try to remove wax, the force can push the wax further into the ear and compress it against the eardrum. Ear wax blockage, also called cerumen impaction, is a common cause of temporary hearing loss.
- Feeling of fullness or stuffiness in your ears
- Hearing loss that gradually worsens
- Earache in some people
- Ringing in the ear (tinnitus)
- Never put any object into your ear canals. Cotton-tipped swabs should be used to clean the outer ear only. Do not place them in the canal.
- For general cleaning, place a wet washcloth over your fingertip to clean your outer ear.
- Monthly use of 1-2 drops containing glycerin or carbamide peroxide in the ear may soften the wax and prevent recurrent blockage.
- If you have had ear wax blockage previously and recognize the symptoms, you can try treating the blockage at home before seeing a doctor.
- If you have pain in your ear, have had a ruptured eardrum in the past, or if you have ever had surgery on your ear, do not try removing the blockage yourself because you could cause an infection. You will need to make an appointment to see a provider.
To treat ear wax blockage yourself, you can try over-the-counter ear wax removal drops.
Tip your head so the ear points toward the ceiling. Using a dropper, fill the ear canal with liquid. Keep your head tipped for at least five minutes, then cover your ear with a towel and straighten your head so the liquid drips out. Repeat this process one to two times a day for several days. If this does not remove the wax, visit your doctor.