Ear wax, also called cerumen, is made by the body to trap dust and other small particles and prevent them from reaching and potentially damaging or infecting the eardrum. The ear wax has both lubricating and antibacterial properties. Everyone makes ear wax, but the amount and type are genetically determined just like hair color or height. Normally, the wax dries up and falls out of the ear, along with any trapped dust or debris. Most of the time, the old ear wax is moved through the ear canal by motions from chewing and other jaw movements and as the skin of the ear canal grows from the inside out. At that time, it reaches the outside of the ear and flakes off. Smaller or oddly shaped ear canals may make it difficult for the naturally occurring wax to get out of the canal and lead to wax impactions. People who use ear plugs or hearing aids may also have more issues with ear wax impaction.
For most people, ears might never need cleaning—they are designed to clean themselves. Ear wax buildup and blockage often happens when people use items like cotton swabs or bobby pins to try to clean their ears. This only pushes the ear wax farther into the ears and can also cause injury to the ear.
You may have a wax impaction if you have:
1.A feeling of fullness in the ear
2.Pain in the ear
3.Difficulty hearing, which may continue to worsen
4.Ringing in the ear (tinnitus)
5.A feeling of itchiness in the ear
6.Discharge from the ear
7.Odor coming from the ear
See your doctor if you think you may have any symptoms of an earwax impaction. Other conditions may cause these symptoms and it is important to be sure ear wax is the culprit before trying any home remedies. Your primary care doctor or audiologist can look in your ears with an otoscope to determine if your ear is impacted with ear wax.
Your doctor may clean your ear wax in the office with suction, irrigation, or a device called a curette. In other cases, the doctor may have you use products at home to soften the ear wax prior to attempting to remove it.
To clean your ears at home:
DO: Wipe away wax you can see with a cloth.
DO: Use cerumenolytic solutions (solutions to dissolve wax) in the ear canal—these solutions include mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin, peroxide-based ear drops (such as Debrox®), hydrogen peroxide, and saline solution.
If the wax does not come out with the cerumenolytic solution, irrigation may be used—this involves using a syringe to rinse out the ear canal with water or saline, generally after the wax has been softened or dissolved by a cerumenolytic overnight.
Note: Irrigation should not be done by or to any persons who have, or suspect they have, a perforation (hole) in their eardrum or tubes in the affected ear(s).
DON’T : Use devices you see advertised on TV. Commercially available suction devices for home use (such as Wax-Vac) are not effective for most people and are therefore not recommended.
DON’T: Use ear candles, which are advertised as a natural method to remove ear wax. Ear candles are not only ineffective but can cause injury to the ear. Injuries include burns to the external ear and ear canal, and perforation of the eardrum.
To prevent future wax impactions, do not stick anything into your ears to clean them. Use cotton swabs only on the outside of the ear. If you have a severe enough problem with ear wax that you need to have it removed by a health professional more than once a year, discuss with them which method of prevention (if any) may work best for you.