What is Earwax?
Earwax (cerumen) is a yellowish waxy substance produced by healthy ears. Earwax protects the ear from bacteria, water, and foreign particles. It also assists in the cleaning and lubrication of the ear canal. Usually, excess wax is removed from the ear canal naturally. If a buildup does occur, the earwax will become hard and block the ear.
What Causes Earwax Blockage?
A blockage of earwax is usually caused by an overproduction of earwax or insufficient cleaning. Surprisingly, the most common cause of a blockage is incorrect at-home earwax removal using cotton swabs. Often, instead of cleaning out the earwax, it is just pushed deeper inside the ear. Earphone and ear plug usage can also cause wax buildup, as the earphones can prevent earwax from naturally coming out of the ear canal.
What are the Symptoms of Earwax Blockage?
Earaches, a feeling of fullness in the ear, hearing loss, and ringing in the ear (tinnitus) are all common signs of earwax blockage. If the earwax is not removed, an infection can develop.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should talk to your doctor, as these may also be signs of a more serious condition.
How is Earwax Removal Performed?
In order to diagnose a buildup of earwax, your doctor will need to look in your ear with a special magnifying instrument called an otoscope. Once diagnosed, your doctor can remove the wax buildup a few ways: with a small curved instrument called a curet, through suction, or by flushing out the wax using a water pick or warm water. If this continues to be a problem, wax-removal medications may be recommended.