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Earwax blockage, also called cerumen impaction, can occur when your body produces too much earwax or when existing wax is pushed 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 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. In this 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.

Learn more: Earwax buildup and 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 people only notice these symptoms in one ear, since it’s unlikely that both ears will be blocked at the same time. If you’re 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.

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:

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.

Another home care option is irrigation. Fill a rubber ball syringe with warm water, tilt your head, and gently squeeze the syringe. 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.

Learn more: Ear irrigation »

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.

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. 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 earwax removed as soon as possible.

If you know you’re prone to earwax blockage, you should consider preventing the buildup by irrigating your ear regularly. This may reduce the chances of earwax 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. This tactic can actually push wax further into your ear, causing an obstruction and possible irritation on the eardrum. Instead, you should use a wet cloth or tissue to gently clean your ear.