If you feel that your ears are full, plugged or if your ear is aching, these may be a sign of earwax blockage. Other signs people report are dizziness, itchiness, ringing of the ear (also known as tinnitus) or ear discharge. One of the most common reasons people suspect they have earwax is the development of hearing loss. Earwax (cerumen) is normal and expected. Earwax protects our ear canal and other auditory anatomy from dirt, dust, and other foreign objects. Earwax naturally moves out of the ear canal; however, earwax blockages often occur in people with a lot of hair in their ears, not-so-straight ear canals, or when a person tries to remove the wax on their own.
The use of cotton swabs (more commonly referred to by the brand name Q-Tips) is not recommended for ear cleaning. In most cases, the cotton swab pushes the earwax further down into the ear canal.
If you suspect you have excessive earwax, it is recommended to see your physician or audiologist who will look in the ear with an otoscope to confirm your suspicions.
People who use earbuds, in-ear hearing protection or hearing aids might notice earwax on the end of these devices. This is very common as the wax is making its way out of the ear canal.
How Do You Clean Your Ears?
Earwax can be removed at home or in your doctor’s office. While in the shower or bath, a person can let the water flush his/her ears or use a washcloth to clean the outer ear (pinna). To soften earwax at home, some over the counter products are available such as mineral oil, sweet oil, baby oil, diluted hydrogen peroxide or Debrox. To use any of these products, place a few drops in each ear canal while laying on the opposite ear to allow the solution to work through the earwax. Usually, these products are applied daily for a few days ,especially if the earwax is very hard and difficult to penetrate. Some over the counter products supply a small bulb to allow the person to flush their ears with water after the solution has softened the earwax. It is important to follow the directions about the water temperature, as water entering the ear canal and reaching the eardrum (tympanic membrane) can cause vertigo (spinning sensation/dizziness).
As mentioned before, the use of cotton swabs (Q-Tips) is not recommended, unless the person is cleaning only the outer portion of their ear and not using the cotton swab down in the ear canal.
There is a lot of information on the Internet about ear candling, but ear candling is not recommended by physicians and audiologists.
How Does An Audiologist Clean Ears?
An audiologist can clean ears using a few different methods. After the audiologist performs otoscopy, the ear can be cleaned using a curette, suction, forceps, or irrigation.
The curette is a small instrument with a loop on the end. The audiologist will gently enter the curette into the ear canal which will secure the earwax and pull it out.
The use of forceps is similar to the curette. Forceps are used as a “grabber” and the earwax can be secured with the forceps and withdrawn.
Suction is a popular option in many audiologist’s offices. A tiny vacuum is placed in the ear canal and the suction dislodges and then removes the wax.
Many audiology offices use irrigation. Some use irrigation with a syringe or with a spray bottle. A basin is held under the earlobe and against the face. The audiologist will spray the water inside the ear canal, which will dislodge the earwax. The water, along with the earwax, will then flush out into the basin.
Ear Wax Irrigation Removal
It is important to confirm the person with impacted wax does not have a perforation in their ear drum before using irrigation. In addition, it is also imperative that the water temperature is appropriate to not cause vertigo.
In the last few years, a new product has debuted called the Earigator. This piece of equipment has gained a lot of popularity in private practice audiology offices. The Earigator is an all-in-one otoscope, along with irrigation. Some may describe it as a tiny pressure washer for the ear canal. Again, a basin is held under the earlobe. The audiologist places the water nozzle at the entrance of the ear canal and the water is both temperature controlled and pressure controlled when entering the ear canal. The Earigator has sped up the earwax removal process and allows for a highly effective procedure.
Why Does Earwax Vary in Color and Texture?
Earwax can be a variety of colors: yellow, gold, orange, or brown. Typically, if the earwax is brown, it has been present in the ear canal for a long period of time. It has collected a lot more dirt and dust and has been exposed to oxygen more so than the yellow or gold wax.
Earwax can also have different textures. Some people have “wet earwax,” while others have “dry earwax.” The reasons for these differences are genetic. People with European or African descent have wet earwax, whereas people of Asian or Native American descent have dry earwax.
What Are the Treatment Guidelines for Impacted Earwax Removal?
If a person thinks they have impacted earwax, the person should visit their audiologist or physician. Otoscopy will be performed to confirm the suspicion of earwax. The provider will then attempt to confirm the eardrum (tympanic membrane) is not perforated, and will use one of the methods mentioned above to remove the earwax. At-home earwax removal is an option, but the person is not able to visualize their ear canal at home, which will not allow them to confirm if the at-home procedure is working.
Is It Safe to Use Hydrogen Peroxide in Your Ear?
Hydrogen peroxide can be used in the ear canals, but the person using it must understand the concentration of the solution. Most over the counter hydrogen peroxide solutions contain only 3% hydrogen peroxide and purified water. This is considered safer than the solutions with higher concentrations. It is often recommended to further dilute the hydrogen peroxide with water before irrigating the ear with it.
To use this method at home, the person will lie on the unaffected ear and the solution is placed in the ear that is facing up. The person will stay in this position for a few moments while the solution is softening the earwax. Then, a wash cloth or paper towel is placed over the affected ear and the person will then empty that ear of the hydrogen peroxide solution.
Hydrogen peroxide side effects include hearing a fizzing or bubbling sound in the affected ear, ear ringing (tinnitus), temporary hearing loss, or sometimes an earache.