Earwax buildup

Dr. Ajay Mohan (AIIMS)MBBS

November 19, 2020

January 04, 2021

Earwax buildup
Earwax buildup

Cerumen is a yellow wax-like substance found inside the ear. It is produced by the ear canal and is commonly called earwax.

This earwax provides the inner lining of the ear protection against microorganisms, dirt and dust. In fact, it is due to earwax that substances entering the ear—including water and insects—get trapped in earwax and cannot go further inside.

If you feel a full ear, in most cases it is caused by overproduction of earwax by glands. Do not try to remove it on your own, because doing so can cause scratches in the inner skin of ear and make the ear more susceptible to infections

Earwax buildup is usually treated quickly and the treatment is not painful. If the earwax interferes with your hearing ability or is the cause of other problems, a doctor can remove it safely with the help of some simple methods. When the excess is removed from inside the ear, you should be able to hear clearly again.

Read more: How to remove ear wax

Symptoms of earwax buildup

The following are the symptoms of earwax buildup:

Sometimes, the situation is aggravated and requires a doctor’s help immediately. The following are the symptoms to look out for:

  • Extreme ear pain
  • Fluid discharge from the ear
  • Fever
  • Dizziness and imbalance 
  • Impaired hearing
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Causes of earwax buildup

Earwax keeps the ear clean and protects it from germs. It usually falls out of the ear with trapped dirt, but sometimes due to excess production of earwax or smaller ear canal, it clogs the ear passage.

Many times, the dirt accumulates deep inside the ear, close to eardrums, when a person tries to clean or scratch the ear by putting something inside like cotton swabs, pins or other objects. 

Other causes of earwax accumulation include:

  • Excessive use of earplugs
  • People with developmental disabilities (ears are not able to develop properly)
  • People with physiological disabilities (smaller or narrower ear canal)
  • Natural hardening or dry scum

Prevention of earwax buildup

Earwax is formed naturally in everyone. There is no way to stop the formation of earwax. However, you may use ear drops which loosen the earwax after consulting a doctor.

Avoid using earbuds for cleaning the ear as they push the earwax deeper inside the ear passage.

If there is a natural overproduction from the glands producing earwax, getting them cleaned every six months by a doctor can prove helpful.

Topical treatments may also be used after consulting a doctor.

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Diagnosis of earwax buildup

A diagnosis is made by the doctor based on a physical examination of the ear. He/she is likely to do so by using a simple device called otoscope or auriscope to examine the ear. The doctor may also order some simple lab tests.

Treatment of earwax buildup

Avoid cleaning the ears with cotton as cotton absorbs the natural oil in the ear canal, which results in dryness and itching.

When problems with hearing or pain begin to arise due to accumulation of earwax, the doctor will perform or recommend one of the following treatments:

  • Eardrops: The doctor may recommend eardrops to soften the wax accumulated in the ear, causing it to drain on its own. The medicine is introduced into the ear at normal body temperature. Most of these eardrops are to be administered inside the ear canal three to four times a day for a few days.
  • Ear irrigation: This is a rapid and painless procedure in which an electronic pump sends water to the ear canal and rinses out the earwax. When problems are not solved by ear-fixing drugs, doctors use the ear irrigation procedure. The flow of water released by the irrigation machine is completely controlled as is the water temperature. The pressure of the pump is also controlled. The pump is rotated around so that the water can reach all the parts inside the ear.
  • Microsuction: Like ear irrigation, this procedure is also painless and is completed in a short time. In this process, a small machine sucks out the wax buildup by viewing it under the microscope vision. This procedure requires the wax to be loosened therefore softening agents are administered before starting microsuction.
  • Aural toilet: In case of discharge and infection in the middle ear, a more invasive cleaning procedure called aural toilet is done. This procedure requires manual cleaning of the ear canal which includes any of the following three procedures: 
    • Dry mopping
    • Microsuction
    • Ear irrigation
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Complications of earwax removal

Earwax rarely leads to complications. However, in certain cases, the following complications can arise after the removal of earwax:

  • Swimmer’s ear
  • Constant pain 
  • Temporary loss of hearing
  • Bleeding
  • Ringing in the ear
  • Perforation of the eardrum 
  • Dizziness
  • Water retention in the ear canal


Medicines for Earwax buildup

Medicines listed below are available for Earwax buildup. Please note that you should not take any medicines without doctor consultation. Taking any medicine without doctor's consultation can cause serious problems.

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