Cerumen, also known as earwax, is naturally produced by the glands in the ears to lubricate the ear canals and keep dust and debris from getting too far down in the ear canal.
Typically, cerumen clears itself from the ears, but in some instances it can accumulate and cause a blockage.
Symptoms of a cerumen blockage may include:
- Increased tinnitus (ringing of the ears)
- Decreased hearing
- Feeling of ear fullness
If a blockage occurs, it may need to be removed. This can be done at home or at your hearing care professional’s office, depending on the size and severity of the blockage.
At-home earwax removal
Earwax removal kits can also be purchased over the counter in most drug stores.
These kits generally consist of a liquid that softens earwax and a small rubber bulb syringe as well as directions on how much and how often to apply the liquid to your ear canals. The liquid typically sits for a short amount of time in your ears to soften up the earwax. Bubbling and fizzing sensations in your ears are normal with use. You will then use the bulb syringe to gently flush your ears with warm (not hot) water to remove the earwax. It may take several days to completely clear earwax blockages from your ear. These kits are not for everyone! There are contraindications to using these kits in some people and with some ear conditions. Before attempting at-home earwax removal, you should speak with your hearing care provider to be sure it is safe for you.
Earwax removal methods to avoid
People commonly use cotton swabs to try and remove earwax or dislodge a blockage. However, this can sometimes cause more problems as cotton swabs may push the blockage further down into the ear canal, risking even more damage to the ear.
Cotton swabs can also be accidentally inserted too far into the ear canal causing pain, irritation of the ear canal or even a punctured eardrum.
Physicians generally agree that cotton swabs are a bad idea for removing earwax and should only be used on the outer portions of your ear. You should never insert cotton swabs or any small object into your ear canal.
Removal at your hearing provider's office
An ear wax blockage may also be removed at your hearing care provider's office. This is typically done by using one of two methods to remove earwax: irrigation or curettage.
Irrigation is done through a gentle flushing of the ear canal with water.
Curettage involves the use of a curette, which is a tool used to gently pull the wax from the ear canal.
If you experience pain or discomfort as a result of earwax or suspect you have a blockage, it's important that you see your hearing health professional as soon as possible to address the issue. Removing earwax doesn't have to be painful and should bring you relief.