Earwax is a very common cause of impaired hearing. This article offers you some information about earwax blockage and ways to manage it.
Earwax is a common problem seen in many people. The ear canal has glands that secrete a waxy oil called cerumen. It is produced in the outer part of the ear canal and not deep inside the ear. The secreted wax finds its way to the opening of the ear. Normally, only small amounts of wax are formed, which gets expelled with the movements of the jaw. Earwax is produced to protect the ears. It has both lubricating and antibacterial properties. Some people form more wax which gets collected in the ear and causes problems. When the wax builds up and blocks the ear canal, it can lead to irritation, hearing loss, pain in the ear, and a ringing sensation in the ears when left unnoticed.
Earwax is typically a mixture of fatty secretions from the sebaceous glands and sweat glands from the outer ear canal. Usually, through jaw movements like chewing, the earwax secretions are propelled through the canal to the opening of the ears, where they dry up and harmlessly flake off. When the earwax picks up abundant amounts of debris and settles in the ear canal for an extended period of time, it hardens and is more likely to cause a blockage. Earwax blockage usually occurs when people try to clean their ears on their own using earbuds or other items in the ear. This happens because the wax is pushed deeper into the ear while cleaning rather than removing it.
People with very small ear canals.
Those with plenty of hair in the ears or people with certain skin conditions.
Those working in dusty surroundings.
Individuals who use hearing aids, earplugs, or earbuds.
People with certain developmental disabilities.
If you have excessive earwax build-up, you will commonly complain of difficulty in hearing and a sensation of blockage. Here are the other common signs and symptoms reported in case of earwax blockage:
Pain in the ears.
Feeling of fullness in the ears.
Reduced hearing in the affected ear.
Untreated earwax blockage can result in an infection causing the following symptoms:
Pain in the ear that does not subside.
Drainage from the ears.
A foul odor coming from the ear.
Occasionally, there may be giddiness. A person with wax may suddenly feel a complete block in the ear when water enters the ears and wax swells up.
Earwax blockage is diagnosed based on the symptoms reported by the patient and by examining the ears with a special instrument known as an otoscope.
Earwax usually falls off on its own, and if it does not fall, then you can try using two to three drops of almond or olive oil into the ear three to four times a day. While administering, make sure you lie with the head on one side for a few minutes to let the oil work its way through the ear canal. This can be done for three to five days.
The wax needs to be removed by an ENT specialist using a simple procedure called syringing. Your doctor may initially prescribe some ear drops to soften the wax making it easier for removal. Following the softening, the doctor will remove the wax with syringing or using instruments.
If this method of using ear drops does not give the expected results, then the doctor may recommend another procedure called irrigation, in which high-pressure water is administered to the ear canal to dislodge the block. This procedure is not painful, but water squirting can make you feel strange. Ear irrigation is not recommended in the following circumstances:
The person who has had ear surgery in the past 12 months.
Person with a perforated eardrum or had one in the past 12 months.
Mucus discharge indicating an undiagnosed perforation.
The person born with cleft palate.
The person who has had a recent infection, otitis media (infection of the middle ear).
Manual Removal of the Wax:
If ear irrigation is not successful, then the doctor may recommend manual removal using a thin instrument with a small hoop at the end to scrape out the earwax. The other instruments used for manual removal include curettes, spoons, and hooks.
In this procedure, a small instrument is used to suck the earwax out of the ear.
There is no specific way to prevent earwax build-up; moreover, earwax has an important function in keeping the ears healthy, and so it should not be removed unless the build-up is causing ear blockage resulting in other symptoms. However, repeated episodes of earwax blockage can be prevented by avoiding the usage of earbuds or Q-tips or any other items that can push the earwax deeper into the ear canal.
People with hearing aids should have a routine examination for earwax impaction every three to six months.
Earwax build-up itself does not cause any complications, but the treatment done for earwax removal can lead to complications like:
Short-term hearing loss.
Perforation in the eardrum.
Bleeding from the ear.
Earwax is normal and serves a role in protecting the inside of the ear canal. Only when there is an excess build-up of earwax does it result in various symptoms. Never make the condition worse by trying to remove it manually when you do not know how it has to be done; rather, consult the healthcare provider immediately to prevent it from pushing further inside the ear canal or from other complications.
Some people tend to get a lot of earwax than others. This is particularly noted in swimmers. This might result in abnormal sounds and other symptoms. It can also result in impaction or blockage of the ears.
A lot of earwax is not normal. In a healthy individual, the excess of wax that is formed naturally comes out of the ear canals. In case of any ear problems, excessive earwax gets blocked into the ears. By cleaning the wax with earbuds, the wax gets pushed deeply and causes severe problems.
An increase in the earwax can be identified with the following symptoms.
- Feeling of fullness in the affected ear.
- Decreased hearing in the affected ear.
- Ringing or noises in the ear (tinnitus).
If the wax is present at minimal levels, then cleaning the ear canals is not necessary. If there is an excessive buildup of earwax, then the person starts experiencing unusual sounds and symptoms. This is an indication of the complete filling of the earwax into the ears. Only in such cases, the removal of earwax is necessary.
The foods that are rich in gluten can cause excessive production of earwax. In most cases, abnormal production of earwax happens due to the inflammatory response caused by gluten. Gluten is considered a poison, and the inflammatory process that happens in response to gluten is the body's protective mechanism.
An ENT specialist will carry out the cleaning of the ears. Cleaning the ears in the hospital setup is one of the safest methods. The doctor will use specialized instruments like forceps, cerumen, spoon, and suction devices to remove the blockage in the ears.
It is not necessary to clean your ears frequently. The ears have a self-cleaning capacity, and you should clean them only once a week. You can use a damp cloth to wipe the ears gently.
Cleaning of ears feels good because the ear is rich in nerves and nerve endings. It is considered to be an erogenous zone. The excessive sensitivity of nerve ending present in the ears provides a soothing and comfortable feeling.
A terrible smell from the earwax is an indicating sign of severe infection. Some kind of bacteria that do not require oxygen to grow might be found in the ear canals. These bacteria might give a foul-smelling odor.
You should not clean your ears deeply. Only a superficial and gentle cleaning of the ears is recommended. If you are trying to use bobby pins, cotton buds, or other small objects to clean your ears, then there are chances for the ear wax to go very deep into the ear canals.
The quickest and safest method to dissolve earwax is to undergo an earwax removal procedure in a clinic. The suction devices used in this procedure can quickly remove the excessive buildup of earwax. Usage of drops for removing the wax might take a longer time.
If earwax is not removed, the patient will not experience any symptoms initially. But in the long run, the patient will have severe noise disturbances and hearing loss. A tingling sensation in the ears might accompany this. You can consult a doctor for earwax removal.
Initially, you have to soften the wax using the application of any of the following in the ear canals.
- Mineral oil.
- Baby oil.
- Hydrogen peroxide.
After two days of application, the wax would have softened, and it could be removed by gently squirting warm water. After this procedure, you have to dry the ear canals.
Yes, earwax drops are effective, but it does not work positively for all patients. Drops for earwax is a very cost-effective method to remove the excess wax buildup.
The time taken for dissolving the earwax using earwax removal drops might vary from one person to another. Generally, it takes a few days for the wax to come out. The drops should be applied twice a day for three to five days. This can help in softening the wax faster.
At-home ear wax can be removed by using five to ten drops of hydrogen peroxide by tilting your head. Earwax softening drops can be used twice a day. In clinical setup, ear wax can be removed using a curved instrument called a curette or by a suction procedure.
Earwax removal is not a painful procedure. The patient would not require any local and general anesthesia. If the doctor uses the suction for wax removal, it might feel uncomfortable in the initial stages.
Last reviewed at:
30 Mar 2022 - 4 min read
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Query: Hello doctor, I am suffering from a left ear blockage, and it happens to me many times. Blockages get open when I move my jaw. I am suffering from this issue for the past two to three years, but not regularly. Commonly, I used to get it after swimming and due to cold. I am not taking any medicine ri... Read Full »
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