Reaching for a Q-tip to clear earwax buildup might not be a good idea, especially if you’re worried about your hearing. But if you think your ear wax buildup could cause hearing loss, here is some expert advice on how to safely address the problem.
Earwax and Hearing Loss: Everything You Need to Know
Cerumen, or earwax, is a natural substance in your ear canal that keeps out debris and bacteria. Earwax usually dries up and falls out on its own, but for some, earwax can build up and cause hearing loss.
“This kind of hearing loss is referred to as a ‘conductive hearing loss’ and can resolve with the removal of the wax plug,” Lilach Saperstein, AuD, Israel-based audiologist and host of the All About Audiology podcast, tells WebMD Connect to Care.
Other symptoms of earwax buildup include:
- Ear pain
- A plugged sensation
- Ringing in the ear
- A cough
If your earwax buildup is causing an infection, you might experience:
- Drainage from the ear canal
- Odor coming from the ear
If earwax is not removed safely, it can cause trauma to the ear, which can result in permanent hearing loss. Earwax can also be especially harmful to toddlers, according to Leann Poston, MD, a pediatrician in Dayton, Ohio. “Chronic hearing loss, even when due to earwax, can cause speech delays in toddlers,” Poston says.
When it comes to clearing earwax, reaching for a Q-tip is not the safest bet. “There have been cases where the earwax is improperly removed with cotton sticks or hair pins or pens, which can then cause damage to the ear canal or even rupture the eardrum,” Saperstein says.
Cotton swabs can also push earwax further into the ear, which could make earwax buildup worse. A safer and more effective route is ear irrigation, which is best done in a doctor’s office, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Ear irrigation is the act of cleaning the ear canal with water or a saline — salt and water — solution.
“First, use over the counter ear wax softener followed by a trip to your primary care doctor's office for a saline ear irrigation,” says Kristina DeMatas, DO, a physician at Mayo Clinic in St, Augustine, Florida. “Sometimes saline is mixed with hydrogen peroxide as well, or a small suction is used to remove the wax.”
The Cleveland Clinic advises that commercial suction tools do not work for most people, and ear candles, which are advertised as a “natural” earwax remedy, could put you at risk for burns.
“You can try to pour a small amount of warm water mixed with hydrogen peroxide to help loosen the earwax and help it fall out at home,” DeMatas advises.
Hearing Loss Can Be Treated and Managed.
In many cases, hearing loss is a treatable condition. It is worth taking the time out to get the answers and treatment for you or a loved one. Don’t wait. Start today.