Cerumen, also known as earwax, is naturally produced by the glands in the ears to lubricate the ear canals and keep dust and debris from getting too far down in the ear canal. Cerumen typically clears itself from the ears, but in some instances can accumulate and cause a blockage.
Symptoms of a cerumen blockage include:
- Tinnitus (ringing of the ears)
- Decreased hearing
- Feeling of ear fullness
If a blockage occurs, it may need to be removed. Cerumen may be removed by your physician or audiologist. It can also sometimes be removed using an at-home earwax removal kit depending on the size and severity of the blockage.
At-home earwax removal
Earwax removal kits can be purchased over the counter in most drug stores or through your hearing health care provider (including our office). These kits generally consist of a liquid that softens earwax and a small rubber bulb syringe used to flush your ear canal using warm water (not hot) after it has been in the ear canal for a short period of time. The kit will provide specific directions on how much and how often to apply the liquid to your ear canals. Bubbling and fizzing sensations in your ears are normal with use. It may take several days to completely clear earwax blockages from your ear with an earwax removal kit. These kits are not to be used with certain ear conditions such as a perforation or hole in the eardrum. Before attempting at-home earwax removal, it is advised to speak with your physician or hearing care provider to be sure it is safe for you.
Earwax removal methods to avoid
People commonly use cotton swabs to try and remove earwax or dislodge a blockage. However, this can sometimes cause more problems as cotton swabs may push the blockage further down into the ear canal. Cotton swabs themselves can also be accidentally inserted too far into the ear canal and can compact wax further or puncture your eardrum. In addition, wax candles, bobby pins or any other foreign objects inserted into the ear canal is generally considered a bad idea for removing wax
Removal at your hearing provider's office
Our audiologists typically use a curette or irrigation to remove blockages. A curette is a curved tool used to remove cerumen from the ear. Unlike at-home earwax removal kits, your hearing professional may use stronger earwax removal medications in conjunction with specialized irrigation tools. In some cases, both curette and irrigation techniques will be used to remove stubborn blockages.
If you experience pain or discomfort as a result of earwax or suspect you have a blockage, it's important that you see your hearing health professional as soon as possible to address the issue. Removing earwax doesn't have to be painful and should bring you relief.