Earwax Build-Up & Blockage

Earwax (also called cerumen) is produced by the glands in the ear canal of humans and other mammals. Earwax lubricates the ear canal—without it, our ears would feel dry and itchy. Earwax protects the skin of the human ear canal as well as provides some protection against bacteria, fungi, insects, and water. Earwax traps dust and other small particles to prevent them from reaching, and potentially damaging or infecting the eardrum. Whenever you move your mouth or jaw, your earwax slowly moves away from your eardrum and eventually flakes off or falls out with the unwanted debris. Everyone makes earwax, but the amount and type are genetically determined just like your hair color or your height. Smaller or oddly shaped ear canals may make it difficult for the naturally occurring wax to migrate out of the canal which can lead to wax impaction. Blockage, or impaction, also occurs when the wax is pushed deep within the ear canal. The most common cause of impaction 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.


Symptoms of an earwax impaction include:

  • Decreased hearing
  • Dizziness
  • Ear pain
  • Plugged or fullness sensation
  • Ringing in the ear
  • Itching or drainage from the ear canal


If you think you may have any symptoms of earwax impaction, feel free to call our office to schedule an appointment. Other conditions may cause these symptoms and it is important to be sure earwax is the culprit. Home remedies such as ear candling are never 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.

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