Earwax is a yellowish-brown substance naturally produced by the glands of the external ear. Although it is an annoyance to most, it actually serves an important purpose. Learn more about why we have it, what it does, and when it can become a problem.
Why Do We Have Earwax?
Medically known as cerumen, earwax, does have a purpose regardless of its “ick” factor. Earwax serves to trap and prevent debris from damaging the delicate eardrum that is important in transmitting sound to our inner ear and brain. It also prevents harmful bacteria and fungi from reproduction and causing infection. Additionally, earwax is helpful in keeping the ear canals from drying out and feeling itchy.
Does Earwax Need to be Removed?
Normally you don’t need to actively remove earwax; your ears naturally handle that function itself while you sleep or shower. However, some people will encounter issues with earwax blockage, also known as cerumen impaction, from time to time. Some just have very small ear canals, or the canal is at an angle that traps the wax. Others may just produce more wax for some unknown reason.
Those who wear hearing aids, use earplugs/earbuds often, or push objects such as cotton swabs into their ears tend to be more prone to earwax impaction.
Symptoms or Earwax Impaction:
- Ears feel plugged or full of water
- Ringing in the ears
- Pain in the ear
- Diminished hearing
- Dizziness, spinning sensation or balance problems
- Malodorous drainage
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, call to schedule an appointment at one of our ENT Centers of North Texas to have your ears looked at. You may have an infection or earwax impaction. Either way we can help identify and treat your issue.
Can Earwax Blockage be Prevented?
Yes, while it may be more difficult for some than for others, there are certain things you can do at home that can prevent earwax from building up to the point of impaction and needing professional removal.
Tips to minimize earwax build up:
- Routinely use an OTC earwax removal solution to soften earwax (warmed, not hot olive oil drops may also help)
- Rinse ears gently with warm water
- Tilt your head to one side and use a warm, soft cloth to dry your outer ear
- DO NOT USE ear candles. Serious injury and burns have resulted from ear candle use and they have not been proven effective in clinical trials.
- DO NOT put cotton swabs or other objects into the ear; not only can they pack in the earwax further, they can cause injury to the ear canal and eardrum.
When Should I Seek Medical Attention?
If you’re having symptoms listed above and are concerned you might have an earwax impaction, contact us today. Our ENT specialists will examine your ears, identify the nature of the problem, and if cerumen impaction is the issue, will proceed to remove it in-office.
In-office treatment typically involves physical removal using a microscope and specialized instruments or suctioning to remove the plugged earwax. If needed, our ENT specialists will carefully remove earwax with other specialized instruments.