Earwax is a helpful and natural part of your body’s defenses. It cleans, lubricates and protects your ear canal by trapping dirt and slowing the growth of bacteria. Earwax blockages commonly occur when people try to clean their ears on their own by placing cotton swabs or other items in their ears. This often just pushes wax deeper into the ear, which can cause serious damage to the lining of your ear canal or eardrum.
Never attempt to dig out excessive or hardened earwax with available items, such as a paper clip, a cotton swab or a hairpin.
If earwax blockage becomes a problem, you or your doctor can take simple steps to remove the wax safely.
Lifestyle and home remedies
If your eardrum doesn’t contain a tube or have a hole in it, these self-care measures may help you remove excess earwax that’s blocking your ear canal:
- Soften the wax. Use an eyedropper to apply a few drops of baby oil, mineral oil, glycerin or hydrogen peroxide in your ear canal.
- Use warm water. After a day or two, when the wax is softened, use a rubber-bulb syringe to gently squirt warm water into your ear canal. Tilt your head and pull your outer ear up and back to straighten your ear canal. When finished irrigating, tip your head to the side to let the water drain out.
- Dry your ear canal. When finished, gently dry your outer ear with a towel or hand-held dryer.
You may need to repeat this wax-softening and irrigation procedure a few times before the excess earwax falls out. However, the softening agents may only loosen the outer layer of the wax and cause it to lodge deeper in the ear canal or against the eardrum. If your symptoms don’t improve after a few treatments, see your doctor.
Earwax removal kits available in stores also can be effective at removing wax buildup. Ask your doctor for advice on how to properly select and use alternative earwax removal methods.
Signs and symptoms of earwax blockage may include:
- Feeling of fullness in the affected ear
- Ringing or noises in the ear (tinnitus)
- Decreased hearing in the affected ear
Signs and symptoms could indicate another condition. You may think you can deal with earwax on your own, but there’s no way to know if you have excessive earwax without having someone, usually your doctor, look in your ears. Having signs and symptoms, such as earache or decreased hearing, doesn’t necessarily mean you have wax buildup. It’s possible you have another medical condition involving your ears that may need attention.
Wax removal is most safely done by a doctor. Your ear canal and eardrum are delicate and can be damaged easily by excess earwax. Don’t try to remove earwax yourself with any device placed into your ear canal, especially if you have had ear surgery, have a hole (perforation) in your eardrum, or are having ear pain or drainage.
Children usually have their ears checked as part of any medical examination. If necessary, a doctor can remove excess earwax from your child’s ear during an visit.