Earwax (cerumen) is a yellowish waxy substance produced by glands in the skin of the outer ear canal. Earwax protects the ear from bacteria, water, and foreign particles. Usually, excess wax is removed from the ear canal naturally when a small amount of wax accumulates and then dries up and falls out of the ear canal, carrying with it unwanted dust and other particles. It also assists in the cleaning and lubrication of the ear canal. The wax coats the skin of the ear canal where it acts as a temporary water repellent. The absence of ear wax can lead to dry, itchy ears, pain, and infections.
A blockage is usually caused by an overproduction of earwax or a convoluted shape of the ear canal. Surprisingly, the most common cause of a blockage is improper at-home ear wax removal attempts. Often, instead of cleaning out the earwax, these attempts push it deeper inside the ear canal.
You should never place cotton swabs or any other solid objects inside your ears for the purpose of removing ear wax. Severe ear or hearing damage can result. Earphones and even hearing aid usage can also cause wax buildup, as these devices can prevent earwax from naturally coming out of the ear canal.
Earwax buildup and blockage can also be caused by a narrowing of the ear canal resulting from infection or trauma. In older individuals, cerumen (ear wax) may not flow out of the ear canal easily requiring removal by a specialist.
Earaches, a feeling of fullness in the ear, hearing loss or decreased hearing in the affected ear, and ringing in the ear (tinnitus) are all common signs of earwax blockage. Some patients also experience dizziness, itchy ears, and cough. You may only experience one or two of these symptoms in one or both ears, and they may develop slowly over time. These symptoms usually improve once the excess earwax has been removed.
Attempts at self-removal of cerumen can lead to development of an infection (external otitis), causing severe pain in the ear with possible fever, drainage (discharge). If you are experiencing pain, ear drainage, or any of the other symptoms noted, you should consult an ENT specialist. These may also be signs of a more serious condition.
In order to diagnose a buildup of earwax, your doctor will need to look in your ear with a special magnifying instrument called an otoscope. Once diagnosed, your doctor can use several methods to remove the wax buildup: with a small, curved instrument called a curet, using vacuum suction, or by flushing out the wax with warm water. Chronic ear wax build-up often requires regular cleanings and the use of ear drops.
Although there are numerous remedies and methods of earwax removal described on the internet, many are neither safe nor effective. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that many alternative earwax removal remedies may be unsafe and ear candles can result in burns to the ear and face, injuries from dripping wax, and present fire hazards. This can be especially dangerous for young children who have trouble being still.
Never attempt to remove earwax by inserting any solid object inside the ear canal. This includes cotton swabs or small hard objects like keys, or hairpins. You can do serious damage to your eardrum and even permanent hearing loss.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above, an ear, nose, and throat specialist should examine your ears, listen to your concerns, and then determine whether there is an underlying condition causing your problem and recommend the appropriate course of treatment for you.
Scheduling an appointment is easy. Just click the “SCHEDULE ONLINE” button on any page of this website, or call our main number at (561) 736-8141.
10150 Hagen Ranch Rd
Boynton Beach, FL 33437
6650 W Indiantown Rd
Jupiter, FL 33458
To register in our patient portal and schedule your first appointment
To sign in to your patient portal account and schedule your next appointment