- Earwax (cerumen) buildup or blockage
- Questions about earwax removal
Symptoms of Earwax Buildup
- Too much earwax can cause rubbing of the ear or poking in the canal.
- A piece of ear wax can become dry and hard in the ear canal. This creates a feeling that an object is in the ear.
- Complete blockage (plugging) of the ear canal by wax causes more symptoms. These include decreased or muffled hearing.
- A large piece of earwax may be seen inside the ear canal.
Causes of Earwax Buildup
- Cotton Swabs. Earwax buildup is usually from using cotton swabs. They push the wax back in and pack it down.
- Fingers. A few children (perhaps 5%) normally produce more wax than others. It usually will come out if it's not pushed back by fingers.
- Ear Plugs. Wearing ear plugs of any type can also push wax back.
Earwax is Normal
- Everyone has earwax. Earwax is normal and healthy. Earwax is not dirty or a sign of poor hygiene.
- Earwax is also called cerumen.
- Earwax is made by special glands in the outer third of the ear canal.
- Earwax has a purpose. It protects the skin lining the ear canal. It is a natural water-proofing agent.
- Earwax also has germ-killing properties.
- New earwax is soft and a golden-yellow color.
- Older earwax becomes dryer and turns to a brown or black color.
Ear Canals are Self-Cleaning
- Ear canals are designed to clean themselves.
- The ear canal skin slowly moves out of the ear canal. It carries the earwax along with it. The wax dries up and becomes flaky. It falls out of the ear on its own.
- There are some people who produce much more earwax than others. For such people periodic ear cleaning may be needed.
- Earwax only needs to be removed from inside the ear if it causes symptoms. Examples of symptoms are decreased hearing, discomfort, fullness or blockage.
Problems from Using Cotton-Tipped Swabs
- The cotton-tipped swab pushes the wax back in. The earwax builds up and causes symptoms.
- Ear canal blockage
- Decreased or muffled hearing.
- Trapped water behind the wax (can lead to Swimmer's Ear).
- Itchy or painful canals, especially in teens who often use cotton swabs. A dry ear canal is always itchy.
- Sometimes, bleeding or damage to the eardrum.
- Cotton swabs cause more than 10,000 ear injuries each year in the US. More than 2,000 are punctured ear drums. Never allow young children to play with cotton swabs.
Prevention of Blocked Ear Canals
- Never put cotton swabs (cotton buds) into the ear canal.
- Cotton swabs just push the earwax deeper into the ear canal. Reason: cotton swabs are usually wider than a child's ear canal.
- Earwax doesn't need any help getting out. You can't hurry the process.
- Never try to dig out pieces of earwax with toothpicks, match sticks or other devices. Usually, doing this just pushes the wax back in.
- These objects can also scratch the ear canal and cause an infection.
- If all of the ear wax is removed (as with cotton swabs), the ear canals become itchy. They also become more prone to swimmer's ear. This can occur in teens when cotton swabs are smaller than the ear canal.
- Limit the use of ear plugs.