Earwax is a naturally produced substance in the ears, however, sometimes it can be overproduced and cause a buildup. Too much earwax can cause blockages, discomfort, pain, and infection, and you may need treatment. It’s common to experience earwax buildup at some stage in life, and if it’s severe or has caused an infection it may need to be professionally removed and the infection will need to be treated with medication.
Earwax buildup can be irritating but it’s important to avoid poking anything in your ear to remove it, instead, try earwax drops, or seek medical attention to have the wax removed.
Dr. Diana Gall
Our Health Care Team
Earwax buildup is quite a common problem, for some people they naturally produce more earwax and are therefore more prone to blockages. Excess earwax can cause pain and discomfort and lead to infections if not treated. If you have stubborn earwax that’s affecting your hearing or causing you pain you may need to have the wax removed. You can do this with over the counter medicines or methods such as syringing or microsuction performed by an ENT specialist.
What is earwax?
The purpose of earwax is to keep the ears protected, cleaned, and free from infection. It’s a naturally produced waxy substance that is very useful to keep the ears moisturised and stop dirt and debris from getting into the ear canal. Earwax should be left alone, in small amounts, it’s important for the health of your ears. After earwax has served its purpose, it naturally makes its way out of the ear, there is no need to remove it. However, in some people, a large amount of earwax is produced which can cause pain and lead to infections. In these instances, you may need treatment to break down the excess wax and remove it.
What causes earwax build-up?
When wax builds up in the ears it can cause discomfort, pain, and in severe cases, some hearing loss. Some people are naturally prone to producing more earwax than normal and so there is more chance of a build-up leading to a blockage in the ear canal. Narrow or hairy ear canals can also cause a build-up of wax in the ears and the older you get, the drier the wax becomes which makes more difficult to naturally fall out. Wearing earphones, hearing aids, or earplugs are all culprits in earwax build-up.
What are the symptoms of excessive earwax and earwax build-up?
When there is a build-up of ear wax and the ear canal becomes blocked you may experience a number of symptoms. These symptoms may include earache, itchiness in the ear, dizziness, tinnitus (high pitch sounds coming from the ear), discharge from the ear, a feeling of fullness in the ear, and/or difficulty hearing. These symptoms can be painful, uncomfortable, and irritating. You’re also at risk of an ear infection if there is a build-up of earwax.
What is the best earwax removal method?
The way you remove earwax depends on the severity of the buildup and whether or not the ear is infected. There are various ways of removing earwax, your pharmacist can help initially, however, if your symptoms haven’t reduced after five days of treatment you should see your GP. You shouldn’t try to remove earwax yourself by pushing objects into your ear as this can push the wax further into the canal and cause more problems. You should also avoid techniques such as ear candling as there isn’t enough evidence to suggest it works and it can cause perforations in the ear, obstructions, and burns.
Your pharmacist can suggest using ear drops to break down and soften the wax so it’s easier to remove, these drops usually contain substances such as hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide.
If eardrops have not removed the wax sufficiently or the blockage has worsened and you can’t hear anything you may need to have the wax removed by a trained specialist. Your doctor may use water irrigation (syringing) to remove earwax, or microsuction which is considered to be a safer option as the medical professional is able to see into the ear while using suction to remove the wax without touching the eardrum.
How to prevent earwax build-up?
When too much earwax builds up it can be uncomfortable but it’s hard to avoid. You can’t prevent earwax as we need it for the health of our ears and it’s naturally produced. However, you can prevent too much build-up and blockages with some simple ear care. This includes avoiding cleaning your ears with cotton buds or other objects as this will only push the wax further down the canal and cause a build-up and infections. Poking objects down your ear can also damage the eardrum. Let the wax do its job and avoid overcleaning and removing all of the earwax. To treat minor earwax build-up at home use eardrops or olive oil to soften the wax and remove excess wax.