Ear wax buildup is one of the things that could be the cause of your tinnitus. You can treat mild impactions at home, but you may need to contact a professional for severe ones.

Tinnitus happens when you experience a persistent noise in your ears. People often describe it as “ringing in the ears” but can sound like hissing, whistling, or buzzing.

Tinnitus can have a number of causes — and a buildup of ear wax in your ear canal can result in tinnitus that’s treatable by removing the excessive earwax from your ear.

Read on to learn more about how earwax buildup can cause tinnitus, how to tell if it’s earwax that’s the source of your tinnitus, and how to safely remove deep earwax-causing tinnitus.

Your middle ear consists of a long tube — known as the external auditory meatus, or ear canal — that stretches from the side of your head into your skull into your eardrum and a collection of other bones and structures that help you hear.

The eardrum absorbs vibrations that trigger your other ear structures to help you perceive sounds.

Earwax typically forms along the ear canal and helps protect the ear canal and eardrum from damage from external substances.

However, common habits like cleaning out your ears with cotton swabs or frequently wearing earphones can push earwax deep into the ear and push on the eardrum.

When earwax builds up deep inside your ear canal and causes a blockage, it’s called earwax impaction.

Earwax impaction can become severe enough to push on your eardrum or stop it from vibrating as it should. When this happens, you might begin hearing “phantom” noises like ringing or hissing that indicate tinnitus.

Other symptoms of severe earwax impaction that you might experience along with tinnitus symptoms include:

Removing excess earwax in your ear should reduce the sensation of ringing that you experience with tinnitus.

You might need to wait a few hours or days for the ringing sensation to go away after clearing out your ear.

But if you still have ringing in your ears after clearing earwax out of your ear canal, something else might be causing your tinnitus, including:

Conditions like Meniere’s disease, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, or thyroid disease can also cause tinnitus, as well as other symptoms like balance problems, dizziness, and vertigo.

Some ways you can safely remove deep earwax that causes tinnitus include:

  • using small amounts of hydrogen peroxide or olive oil to loosen earwax and help it fall out by itself
  • putting over-the-counter (OTC) ear drops in your ear canal to help break up impacted earwax
  • performing ear irrigation by spraying water or a saline solution into your ear canal with a syringe to moisten earwax and make it easier to remove

Don’t use ear candles to remove excess earwax. There’s no evidence that they can reduce earwax in your ear canal.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued official warnings against the use of ear candles due to the risk of burns from heat involved in their use.

If you can’t remove earwax at home by yourself, contact an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor (otolaryngologist) or an audiologist to get professional treatment for severely impacted earwax.

Tinnitus from earwax buildup isn’t usually permanent. Typically, a cleaning will be able to remove the problem.

However, damage to the eardrum or eardrum rupture could occur during the cleaning if not done by a professional, so it’s important to be cautious with severe impaction. Talk with your doctor to find out your best options.

Earwax is one of many possible causes of tinnitus. In most cases, earwax impaction is easy to treat at home using substances like hydrogen peroxide or OTC ear drops that loosen and remove earwax.

You may want to get medical help if clearing your earwax doesn’t stop your tinnitus — or if your earwax impaction is too difficult to treat at home. Over time, severe earwax buildup can cause permanent damage to your hearing.