Ear wax, also known as cerumen, is a natural substance produced by glands in the ear canal. It serves several important functions, including trapping dirt and debris to prevent infection, lubricating the ear canal, and protecting the eardrum from damage. However, too much ear wax buildup can cause problems such as earache, tinnitus, dizziness, and temporary hearing loss. That’s why regular ear wax removal is an important part of maintaining good ear health.
Why Ear Wax Buildup Occurs
Ear wax production varies from person to person. Some people naturally produce more than others. Factors like diet, medications, underlying medical conditions, and the anatomy of the ear canal can also affect cerumen production and buildup. Using items like cotton swabs and ear candles can actually push wax deeper into the ear canal, worsening impaction. As we age, ear wax also tends to dry out and become thicker, making it harder to naturally expel.
Signs You May Need Ear Wax Removal
You should consider having your ears cleaned if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Feeling of fullness or blockage in the ear
- Ringing in the ear (tinnitus)
- Partial hearing loss
- Itching, irritation, or pain in the ear
- Drainage or odor coming from the ear
- Dizziness or balance issues
- Coughing or gagging as a reaction to blocked ears
These symptoms often indicate a significant ear wax impaction that needs medical attention. Letting the buildup continue unchecked can increase your risk of infection and other complications.
Potential Risks of Ear Wax Blockages
Several health risks are associated with excessive ear wax buildup, including:
- Hearing loss – Built-up wax dampens sound transmission through the ear canal, causing mild to moderate conductive hearing loss. This can be temporary if the blockage is removed.
- Tinnitus – Ringing, buzzing and other phantom noises can develop with complete ear canal blockages. Relief usually occurs after wax removal.
- Infection – Bacteria, fungi, and viruses can get trapped behind the ear wax and proliferate, causing a painful infection of the outer ear canal called otitis externa.
- Coughing – The Eustachian tube connecting the ears and throat can become irritated by excessive cerumen. This stimulates coughing as the body tries to clear the blockage.
- Dizziness and loss of balance – The ear is responsible for the body’s equilibrium. Blockages disrupt signals to the brain that control spatial awareness and stability.
- Social isolation – Hearing loss and ringing of the ears makes it hard to converse with others. This can lead to loneliness and depression.
Regular cleaning prevents these complications and allows you to hear and engage with the world at your best.
Safe Ear Wax Removal Methods
Never try to dig out ear wax yourself with items like cotton swabs or paperclips. This can damage the delicate skin of the ear canal and eardrum. There are safer, effective ways to clean your ears:
- Ear drops – Special cerumen-softening drops like Debrox or Murine Ear can help loosen and dissolve wax for easier removal. Use as directed for several days before irrigation.
- Ear irrigation – Also called ear syringing, a specialist uses a rubber bulb syringe to direct warm sterile water into the ear canal to flush out wax. This is very effective for stubborn buildup.
- Manual removal – A doctor can use specialized tools like suction, micro-forceps and microsuction to manually dislodge and extract hardened wax. This may be needed for very severe impactions.
- Doctor’s visit – Primary care physicians, ENT doctors, and audiologists can all assess blockages and safely remove excess wax using the methods above. Seek professional help rather than trying DIY remedies.
Develop An Ear Cleaning Routine
To prevent excessive ear wax, make sure to:
- Use over-the-counter wax softeners periodically as maintenance
- Avoid sticking cotton swabs or other objects in the ears
- See a doctor at the first signs of blockage for a full cleaning
- Get your hearing tested annually after age 50
- Follow up with your doctor if symptoms persist after wax removal
Catching buildup early and having regular cleanings every 6 to 12 months is crucial for healthy ears free of congestion. Don’t wait until major blockage occurs – be proactive against cerumen problems before they affect your hearing and comfort.
Ear wax protects the ears when in normal amounts, but too much buildup can muffle hearing, cause dizziness and ringing, trigger infections, and more. Seeking professional wax removal rather than at-home remedies is the safest way to relieve blockages before they impact your health and quality of life. Make ear health maintenance a priority by scheduling cleanings and checkups at the first sign of congestion. With a little diligence, your ears can stay clean and clear for optimal function.