Earwax Blockage

What is Earwax Blockage?

Earwax (cerumen) is a beneficial substance that lubricates and protects the ear canal from germs and foreign particles. It usually sloughs away and does not cause problems. However, in some people it accumulates and hardens named earwax blockage.

Some have narrow or oddly shaped ear canals, tacky thick wax or ear canal dermatitis. Earwax can also build up because of hearing aid or ear plug use. Cotton swabs should not be routinely used within the ear canals because they cause impaction. When left untreated an earwax blockage can cause infection, pain and temporary hearing loss.

What are the Symptoms of Earwax Blockage?

A medical condition or a foreign body in the ear canal may be the reason for hearing loss, infection and earaches. Symptoms alone do not confirm an earwax blockage. The blockage must be seen for verification.

Symptoms include

  • Full or stuffy feeling in the ear
  • Ear pain
  • Ear discharge
  • Ringing in the ear
  • Reduced hearing
  • Itching in the ear
  • Foul odor
  • Coughing
  • Dizziness

Earwax Blockage Causes

Earwax is naturally produced by glands in the ears. Along with the tiny hairs that line the ear canal, earwax helps to trap dust and debris from gaining access to the inner ear, where contaminants might cause serious hearing problems. Most times, earwax will be cleared out naturally.

In cleaning the ear canal for themselves, people can sometimes make earwax build up worse, if they aren’t cautious. Instead of pulling the excess earwax out, people tend to push the substance further into the canal. While this occurs, the glands in the ear are still producing more earwax, complicating the problem and causing an even greater amount of buildup.

How is Earwax Blockage Treated?

It is best to seek professional medical treatment when impacted earwax is suspected. Never attempt to remove earwax with swabs, picks or tools of any kind because you might permanently damage your eardrum.

Treatment includes

  • Application of a softening agent such as mineral oil or hydrogen peroxide
  • Ear flushing if infection is not present and the eardrum is fully intact
  • Suction removal
  • Use of earwax removal tool (curette)

Earwax Blockage Prevention

Experts suggest that the best way to prevent earwax blockage is to refrain from cleaning the ears out at all, recommending that people allow the ear to clean itself naturally. Using tools like bobby pins and cotton swabs are highly discouraged, because they could damage inner ear components, as well as pushing earwax deeper. Additionally, people should be cautious not to get soap, bubble bath, or shampoo in the canal, when bathing or showering.

Keeping the ears dry is also a good way of preventing earwax blockage, especially when showering. Doctors recommend pulling the ear flap down over the ear opening, while rinsing one’s hair. Additionally, whether swimming or bathing, individuals should shake their heads afterwards. This will force excess water out of the ear canal.

When ears are wet, gently dry them with the corner of a towel or napkin. Another alternative is to use a hair blow dryer, set to its lowest setting. Another recommendation, following a swim or bath, is to put a few drops of rubbing alcohol into each ear. First, wiggle the outside of your ear to let the alcohol run down into the canal. Second, tilt your head to let the alcohol trickle back out of the ear. This will help keep the canal clean and dry.