Earwax blockage occurs when earwax (cerumen) accumulates in your ear or becomes too hard to wash away naturally.
Earwax is a helpful and natural part of your body’s defenses. It cleans, lubricates and protects your ear canal by trapping dirt and slowing the growth of bacteria.
If earwax blockage becomes a problem, you or your doctor can take simple steps to remove the wax safely.
The wax in your ears is secreted by glands in the skin that lines the outer half of your ear canals. The wax and tiny hairs in these passages trap dust and other foreign particles that could damage deeper structures, such as your eardrum.
In most people, a small amount of earwax regularly makes its way to the opening of the ear, where it’s washed away or falls out as new wax is secreted to replace it. If you secrete an excessive amount of wax or if earwax isn’t cleared effectively, it may build up and block your ear canal.
Earwax blockages commonly occur when people try to clean their ears on their own by placing cotton swabs or other items in their ears. This often just pushes wax deeper into the ear, rather than removing it.
Signs and symptoms of earwax blockage may include:
- Feeling of fullness in the affected ear
- Ringing or noises in the ear (tinnitus)
- Decreased hearing in the affected ear
When to see a doctor
If you’re experiencing the signs and symptoms of earwax blockage, talk to your doctor.
Signs and symptoms could indicate another condition. You may think you can deal with earwax on your own, but there’s no way to know if you have excessive earwax without having someone, usually your doctor, look into your ears. Having signs and symptoms, such as earache or decreased hearing, doesn’t necessarily mean you have wax buildup. It’s possible you have another medical condition involving your ears that may need attention.
Wax removal is most safely done by a doctor. Your ear canal and eardrum are delicate and can be damaged easily by excess earwax. Don’t try to remove earwax yourself with any device placed into your ear canal, especially if you’ve had ear surgery, have a hole (perforation) in your eardrum, or are having ear pain or drainage.
Children usually have their ears checked as part of any medical examination. If necessary, a doctor can remove excess earwax from your child’s ear during an office visit.