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Earwax Blockage


Earwax blockage (called cerumen impaction) can occur when your body produces too much earwax or when the existing wax pushes too far into your ear canal. In some cases, you may not be able to hear out of the affected ear, but this typically lasts only until you can have the excess wax removed. In most cases, home treatment works well, but a doctor can also help eliminate and unplug the earwax blockage.

Causes of earwax blockage


The presence of some earwax is normal. Earwax protects your inner ear from debris, such as bacteria and dust. Normally, the wax works its way out of your ear gradually so there’s no blockage. However, you may develop a blockage if you push the wax deep into your ear or naturally produce an excess amount of earwax.

Using cotton swabs

If you try to get the wax out with a cotton swab or other object, you may end up pushing it further into your ear, creating an obstruction.

Natural presence of excessive wax

Another possible cause of earwax blockage is that your body just makes more wax than it should. If this is the case, there may be too much wax for your ear to easily eliminate. If so, the wax may harden in your ear, making it less likely to work its way out on its own.

Symptoms of earwax blockage


One of the main symptoms of earwax blockage is decreased hearing in the affected ear. Don’t worry — your hearing will return once you have the earwax blockage removed.

Other common symptoms include:

  • a feeling of fullness in your ear
  • an earache
  • ringing, buzzing, or other odd noises in your ear

Most patients only notice these symptoms in one ear, since it’s unlikely that both ears will be blocked at the same time. If you are experiencing these symptoms in both ears, you should see a doctor to rule out any other medical conditions.

Your doctor will likely ask about your symptoms before diagnosing you with a wax blockage. Your doctor will also use a lighted instrument called an otoscope to look into your ear and see if wax may be causing your symptoms.

Treating earwax blockage


Your doctor may treat your earwax blockage in the office, or instruct you on how to do this at home. If your doctor has reason to believe that your eardrum isn’t intact, they will likely have to remove the earwax to make sure you don’t damage this important and sensitive structure.

Home care

You can use several substances to soften and remove earwax at home, including:

  • mineral oil
  • glycerin
  • baby oil
  • over-the-counter earwax removal kits (Debrox, for example)

Use an eyedropper to insert a few drops into your ear canal twice a day for four to five days to soften the wax. Once the wax is soft, it should come out on its own within a few days. If this doesn’t work, you can try putting a little hydrogen peroxide in your ear to remove the wax.

Another home care option is irrigation. Fill a rubber ball syringe with warm water, tilt your head, and pull your earlobe up a bit so that you can direct the water into your ear canal. You’ll likely have to repeat this procedure a few times. Dry your ear thoroughly after attempting to remove the earwax blockage.

At the doctor’s office

If these tactics don’t work, you may need your doctor to suction your ear or remove the blockage with a curette or other instrument.

What can be expected in the long term?


Once you experience an earwax blockage, there’s no guarantee that it won’t return. If your body produces an excessive amount of wax, you may have to deal with this condition several times in your life. Fortunately, earwax blockage is only a temporary issue, and your symptoms should disappear after you treat the condition.

Some people experience complications from earwax blockage, such as a fever, ear drainage, and severe ear pain. If you notice these relatively rare symptoms, you should contact your doctor to have the wax removed as soon as possible.

Preventing earwax blockage


If you know you are prone to earwax blockage, you should consider preventing the buildup by irrigating your ear regularly. This may reduce the chances of the wax becoming hard and clogging your ear.

Another way to prevent earwax blockage is to avoid sticking anything in your ear, including the cotton swabs that many people regularly use to clean out wax. In many cases, this tactic can actually push wax further into your ear, causing an obstruction. Instead, you should use a wet cloth or tissue to gently clean your ear.

You asked, we answered

  • I am currently experiencing earwax blockage, along with some slight pain and discomfort. What could be the cause of the discomfort and how should I treat it?
  • It is difficult to say what is causing the discomfort but earwax certainly can give you a feeling of fullness in the ear. Typically I suggest something like Debrox which has peroxide in it, five to 10 drops twice a day for about four days. Make sure that you hear what sounds like little bubbles so you know the product is working. After the drops you can try standing under the shower to allow warm water into the ear. If that doesn’t work, then you can visit your doctor and they can remove the wax. Avoid using Q-tips or anything else in the ear.

    - University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine

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