What is earwax?

    Earwax, also called cerumen, is soft yellow wax. It is produced by glands inside your ear canals. Earwax works with tiny hairs inside the ear to keep out dirt, water and other foreign matter that could cause damage to your inner ear.


    Should you clean the wax out of your ears?

    In most cases, earwax takes care of itself. A small amount of earwax regularly makes its way to the outer ear where it dries up and flakes off or is washed away when you take a shower.


    Can earwax cause a problem?

    Usually earwax does its job without causing any problems, but sometimes too much earwax builds up and can block the ear canal. This can cause pain, interfere with your hearing, and cause ringing in the ear or dizziness.


    What causes earwax buildup?

    Some people are just born with narrow or winding ear canals that make it hard for earwax to wend its way out. People with very dry skin may produce hard, dry earwax that moves less smoothly from the inner to the outer ear.

    A bad cold or an ear infection can cause tissue to swell up, narrowing the ear canal and keeping earwax stuck inside. People who wear hearing aids, earplugs or use cotton swabs (Q-tips) to clean their ears can push earwax back into the ear canal, causing build-up. And, finally, as we get older, the glands in theears weaken, producing less-oily, drier earwax that is more likely to get stuck inside the ear.


    How can I tell if I have earwax buildup?

    Earaches, hearing problems, ringing in the ears and sometimes dizziness may be signs of earwax buildup - and a variety of other medical conditions. These symptoms do not necessarily mean that you have earwax buildup. The only way to know for sure is to ask your doctor to look into your ear canal.


    What can I do at home to remove excess earwax?

    As long as you do not have tubes in your ears or a perforated eardrum, you may try to gently remove excess earwax on your own. Do not use cotton swabs to clean your ears. Never use anything else - like a paper clip or a bobby pin - to clean your ears. Doing so may push the earwax back into the ear canal, making your problems worse.

    Instead, try one of these safer methods:

    1.      Use an eyedropper to place a few drops of baby oil, mineral oil, glycerin or hydrogen peroxide in your ear canal twice a day for no more than four or five days. This will soften the wax

    2.      Use a bulb syringe to gently squirt lukewarm water into your ear canal. Don’t squeeze the bulb too hard, and don’t force the syringe deep into the canal. Tip your head to allow the water to drain out. When finished, dry yourouter ear with a towel or a hand-held hair dryer

     You may need to repeat these wax-softening and irrigation procedures several times before the excess earwax falls out. If your symptoms do not improve after a few treatments, see your doctor.


    Can the doctor remove excess earwax for me?

    Your doctor can scoop out excess wax with a small, curved curette or ‘spoon,’ or rinse out excess wax with a gentle spray of warm water from a water pick or rubber syringe. If the wax is very hard, your doctor may prescribe eardrops to soften the wax for a few days before you return to the office to have it removed. Sometimes the eardrops alone are enough to loosen up earwax so it comes out on its own.

    If earwax buildup is a recurring problem, your doctor may recommend putting a drop or two of mineral oil in the affected ear once a week to help keep the wax from hardening and building up.

    This document is intended to provide health related information so that you may be better informed. It is not a substitute for your care team's medical advice and should not be relied upon for treatment for specific medical conditions.

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