Earwax problems: Cause, Symptoms & Treatment

what is earwax or cerumen?

Earwax, also called cerumen, is a natural substance produced by glands in the ear canal. It helps to protect and lubricate the ear canal and trap dirt, dust, and other foreign particles that could potentially damage the eardrum. There are two types of Earwax: wet and dry. Wet earwax is yellowish-brown in color and is the most common type. Dry earwax is typically gray and flaky.

What Is Earwax Buildup or cerumen impaction?

Earwax buildup occurs when there is an accumulation of earwax in the ear canal. Earwax, also known as cerumen, is a natural substance produced by the body to protect the ear canal from dirt, dust, and other particles that may enter the ear.
Under normal circumstances, earwax gradually makes its way to the opening of the ear canal and falls out naturally. However, when too much earwax accumulates, it can become impacted and cause discomfort or even affect hearing.
Factors that can contribute to earwax buildup include using earplugs or hearing aids, inserting objects such as cotton swabs or hairpins into the ear canal, and having a narrow ear canal or excessive hair growth in the ear canal. Symptoms of earwax buildup may include ear pain, ear fullness, ringing in the ears, or decreased hearing.

What causes earwax buildup or cerumen impaction?

Earwax buildup occurs when the ear canal is unable to clear the excess wax naturally. This can be caused by following factors, including:

  • Narrow or twisted ear canals: People with narrow or twisted ear canals may have difficulty clearing earwax naturally.
  • Excessive earwax production: Some people naturally produce more earwax than others, which can lead to buildup.
  • Improper cleaning: Using cotton swabs or other objects to clean the ear can push earwax further into the ear canal and cause buildup.
  • Hearing aids or earplugs: Wearing hearing aids or earplugs can prevent earwax from being naturally cleared from the ear
  • You have dry or hard earwax or You have a lot of ear hair.
  • Skin conditions: Certain skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis, can cause excessive earwax buildup.

What happens if impacted earwax is not removed?

If impacted earwax is not removed, it can lead to a variety of symptoms and complications.

  • Decreased hearing: Impacted earwax can block sound waves from reaching the eardrum, resulting in reduced hearing.
  • Earaches: As the impacted earwax puts pressure on the eardrum, it can cause pain and discomfort.
  • Tinnitus: Impacted earwax can also cause ringing or buzzing in the ears, which can be a sign of tinnitus.
  • Dizziness: In some cases, impacted earwax can cause dizziness or vertigo, especially if it affects the inner ear’s balance organs.
  • Infections: When earwax builds up in the ear canal, it can create a warm, moist environment that is conducive to bacterial growth. This can lead to ear infections or other types of ear-related infections.
  • Damage to the ear canal or eardrum: Attempting to remove earwax on your own, especially with sharp or pointy objects, can cause injury to the delicate tissues of the ear canal or eardrum.

Therefore, it’s important to have impacted earwax removed by a healthcare professional to avoid these potential complications.

How do you get rid of impacted earwax?

Impacted earwax can cause discomfort, hearing loss, and other symptoms. Here are some ways to get rid of impacted earwax:

  • Earwax softening drops: You can use over-the-counter earwax softening drops, such as carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide, to help soften the earwax.
  • Ear irrigation: This involves flushing the ear canal with water or a saline solution to remove the softened earwax. Ear irrigation should be done by a healthcare professional.
  • Earwax removal kits: These kits typically include a bulb syringe or earwax removal tool to help remove the softened earwax. Follow the instructions carefully.
  • Manual removal: A healthcare professional can use special tools, such as a curette or suction device, to manually remove the impacted earwax.

How can I prevent earwax buildup?

By following these tips, you can help prevent earwax buildup and keep your ears healthy. If you’re experiencing symptoms of earwax buildup, consult a healthcare professional for treatment.

  • Don’t use cotton swabs or other objects to clean your ears: Using cotton swabs or other objects to clean your ears can push the earwax further into the ear canal and cause an impact. Instead, let the earwax naturally migrate out of your ear canal.
  • Don’t over-clean your ears: Cleaning your ears too frequently can strip your ear canals of natural oils, leading to dryness and irritation. It can also cause your ear to produce more earwax, which can lead to buildup.
  • Use earplugs: If you’re exposed to loud noises, wear earplugs to protect your ears from damage. This can help prevent the buildup of earwax caused by ear damage.
  • Avoid inserting objects into your ears: Avoid inserting objects into your ears, such as earbuds or hearing aids, unless they’re prescribed by a healthcare professional. This can help prevent irritation and earwax buildup.

Keep your ears dry: Moisture in the ear can promote the growth of bacteria and fungi, which can lead to ear infections and earwax buildup. Use a towel to dry your ears after swimming or showering, and avoid swimming in contaminated water.