The majority of people do not need to do anything to get earwax out of their ears. Earwax is necessary for cleaning, lubricating, and naturally protecting your ear canal by trapping unwanted dirt and slowing bacteria growth. The right amount of earwax is beneficial, so the best policy is almost always to leave it alone. However, some people do produce too much earwax, and an ear canal clogged with earwax is not only uncomfortable but it can lead to other symptoms as well. If your ear canal is clogged it can cause a cough, an earache, or even some loss of hearing. The best thing to do when your ear is clogged with earwax is to see an audiologist so they can remove the earwax and offer you solutions for hearing and ear care in the future. It may be a simple one time occurrence, or you may produce too much earwax naturally and need either home remedies or consistent visits to your doctor.
Should You Clean Your Ears?
Your ears do a good job of cleaning themselves without help, and most people produce just enough earwax to replace what is washed away in the shower or by other everyday processes. The one thing that almost all doctors can agree on is that you should refrain from putting anything inside your ear for any reason, including to clean it. Many people will use q-tips or other cleaners to try to remove excess ear wax, but most of the time they do nothing more than push the wax closer to your eardrum, potentially causing future issues. The bottom line is, if you are trying to clean your ears by putting things inside of them…Stop.
Should You Use Ear Candles?
Ear candles are hollow cones covered in wax and about one foot in length. The pointed end of the candle is placed in your ear and the opposite, wider end is lit. The idea is that the heated end of the candle creates suction that pulls excess wax out of your ears in order to clean them. The candle is supposed to burn for 10 to 15 minutes or until about 3 to 4 inches of the candle remains. Marketers of ear candles want you to believe that they are adequate treatment for earwax buildup, swimmer’s ear, earaches, tinnitus, hearing problems, sinus conditions, and more.
The problem with these claims is that there is no scientific evidence to back them up and no reason to believe that ear candles pull wax or debris from your ears. In addition, there are injury risks associated with “ear candling.” Perforated ear drums, ear canal blockages, and even burns resulting from starting a fire that close to your ear and face have all been known to occur when using this form of “cleaning.” While there is no real long-term risk, the risk of injury coupled with the lack of scientific data supporting their efficacy makes the use of ear candles ill-advised.
What Does It Mean When Earwax Becomes Impacted?
If you have noticeable symptoms related to excessive earwax, it is very likely that the earwax has become impacted. Impacted earwax occurs when the wax builds up in your ear and becomes too hard or too full to wash away naturally. The most common causes of impacted earwax are when people try to clean their ears with cotton swabs or some other mechanism or when more earwax is produced than needed. Cotton swabs usually just push the wax closer to your eardrum resulting in it being contained in an enclosed space where it hardens and cannot escape. Ceasing the use of cotton swabs may result in you no longer experiencing the issue of impacted earwax.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
As mentioned above, as soon as excessive earwax becomes a problem you should call a doctor. Because of the nature of your ears, how they operate, and the fact that they control your hearing and balance, you should not hesitate to seek assistance when they begin to function at a lower level. You can try some of the safer home remedies, such as an irrigation kit or mineral water, but oftentimes, when the earwax is impacted, you need the help of a professional such as an ENT or audiologist. If you have any of these three symptoms, you should go to a hospital immediately:
- Severe loss of balance or an inability to walk
- Persistent vomiting or high fever accompanied with ear pain
- Sudden loss of hearing
What Are Possible Complications Of Earwax Buildup And Blockage?
When you have an earwax buildup or impacted earwax in your ears, there are potential symptoms and complications that can arise. Some of those symptoms and complications include but are not limited to:
- Pain or earache
- A feeling of “fullness” in the affected ear
- Itchiness in the ear
- Decreased hearing or hearing loss
- Ringing in the ear (tinnitus)
- A discharge or odor coming from the ear
- An ear infection
The good thing is that most of these symptoms will go away when the earwax is removed. The bad thing is that far too many people try to remove it on their own. When earwax builds up and becomes impacted it becomes increasingly difficult to remove without the help of a doctor.
How Is Earwax Buildup And Blockage Diagnosed?
Earwax buildup and blockage should be diagnosed by an audiologist. To make that diagnosis they generally rely on three things:
- An otoscope, or a device used to look into your ears
- The list of symptoms you have been experiencing
- Looking at the color and consistency of your earwax
Your medical care provider can look into your ears with a special instrument called an otoscope. An otoscope shines a beam of light to help your doctor visualize and examine the condition of your ear canal and eardrum. When making a diagnosis, your doctor will also ask for symptoms you have experienced and examine the color and consistency of your ear wax. This evaluation assists in making the correct diagnosis and determining the appropriate subsequent treatment plan.
How Is Earwax Buildup And Blockage Treated?
The first step is to see a doctor so that they can explain the treatment plan to you along with the reasons why it probably happened in the first place. Most of the time, they will clean your ear out once and suggest changes you can make to prevent the buildup from happening again. One suggestion will likely be to cease use of cotton swabs in your ears. If they do notice a naturally occurring problem, they will create a plan of action with you to help keep your earwax levels normal. They will definitely clean your ear that day using either curettage, irrigation, or suction to remove the excess earwax so that infection, loss of hearing, or other issues do not persist. After that cleaning they will help you decide how frequently you need to come in to make sure your ears and hearing are operating at an optimal level.
How Can I Prevent Earwax Buildup And Blockage?
The most important thing you can do to prevent earwax buildup and blockage is to stop using cotton swabs. If you are not using cotton swabs, then softening the wax in your ears is your best bet. Softer earwax is easier to remove, and if you can soften it consistently, then it may fall out quickly enough to not need a lot of extra treatment.
Even if you do need to consistently see an audiologist to clean your ears, keeping your earwax soft makes it easier for your doctor visits. Using an at-home ear cleaning kit or putting a few drops of baby oil in your ear each month may be advised. When you have finished the softening process, use a bulb-type syringe to clean your ear with warm water.