Skip to content
Font Size
A
A
A

Earwax

Earwax is produced by glands in the ear canal. Although scientists are still not completely sure why we have earwax, its purpose is to trap dust and other small particles and prevent them from reaching, and potentially damaging or infecting the eardrum. Normally, the wax dries up and falls out of the ear, along with any trapped dust or debris. Everyone makes ear wax, but the amount and type are genetically determined just like hair color or height. 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.

Earwax Causes

Blockage, or impaction, also occurs when the wax gets pushed deep within the ear canal. Earwax blockage affects about 6% of people and is one of the most common ear problems doctors see.

  • The most common cause of impactions is the use of Q-tips (and other objects such as bobby pins and rolled napkin corners), which can remove superficial wax but also pushes the rest of the wax deeper into the ear canal.
  • Hearing aid and earplug users are also more prone to earwax blockage.

Earwax Symptoms

Symptoms of an earwax impaction include:

When to Seek Medical Care for Earwax

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 earwax is the culprit before trying any home remedies.

Go to the hospital if:

  • You have a severe spinning sensation, loss of balance, or inability to walk
  • You have persistent vomiting or high fever
  • You experience sudden loss of hearing

Exams and Tests

A doctor can diagnose earwax blockage (or eardrum perforation) by listening to your symptoms and then looking into your ear with an otoscope (ear-scope).

Earwax Treatment and Self-Care at Home

Your doctor may recommend that you try an earwax removal method at home, unless you have a perforation (hole) or a tube in your eardrum.

  • Over-the-counter wax softening drops such as Debrox or Murine may be put into the affected ear and then allowed to drain out after about five minutes while holding the head to the side, allowing the drops to settle. Sitting up again will let the drops drain out by themselves.
  • A bulb-type syringe may be used to gently flush the ear with warm water. The water should be at body temperature to help prevent dizziness.
  • Ear candling is not recommended. The procedure uses a hollow cone made of paraffin and beeswax with cloth on the tapered end. The tapered end is placed inside the ear, and an assistant lights the other end, while making sure your hair does not catch on fire. In theory, as the flame burns, a vacuum is created, which draws the wax out of the ear. Limited clinical trials, however, showed that no vacuum was created, and no wax was removed. Furthermore, this practice may result in serious injury.

Hot Topics

WebMD Video: Now Playing

Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

disciplining a boy
Types, symptoms, causes.
psoriasis
What it looks like.
fruit drinks
Eat these to think better.
No gym workout
Moves to help control blood sugar.
acupuncture needle on shoulder
10 tips to look and feel good.
Close up of eye
12 reasons you're distracted.
Epinephrine Injection using Auto-Injector Syringe
Life-threatening triggers.
woman biting a big ice cube
Habits that wreck your teeth.
embarrassed woman
Do you feel guilty after eating?
pacemaker next to xray
Treatment options.
caregiver with parent
10 tips for daily life.
birth control pills
Which kind is right for you?

Pollen counts, treatment tips, and more.

It's nothing to sneeze at.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Women's Health Newsletter

Find out what women really need.