Earwax (cerumen) is a yellow to brown waxy substance produced by normal, healthy ears. Earwax protects the ear from bacteria, water and foreign particles. It also assists in the cleaning and lubrication of the ear canal. Usually, excess wax is removed from the ear canal naturally. If a buildup does occur, the earwax may need to be removed by your primary care doctor or an ENT doctor.
Causes of Earwax Blockage
A blockage of earwax, or cerumen impaction, is usually caused by an overproduction of earwax or insufficient cleaning. Surprisingly, the most common cause of a blockage is incorrect at-home earwax removal. Often, The attempt to remove the wax just pushes it deeper into the ear. The use of ear buds, ear plugs and hearing aids can also cause wax buildup, as the earphones can prevent earwax from naturally coming out of the ear canal.
Symptoms of Earwax Blockage
Earaches, a feeling of fullness in the ear, hearing loss and ringing in the ear (tinnitus) are all common signs of earwax blockage. If the earwax is not removed an infection can develop. This can result in severe ear pain and a fever. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should talk to your doctor, as these may also be signs of more serious conditions.
How Does an ENT Treat an Earwax Block (Cerumen Impaction)
In order to diagnose a buildup of earwax, your doctor will need to look in your ear with a special magnifying instrument called an otoscope. Once diagnosed, your doctor can remove the wax buildup with a few different techniques. Sometimes a small curved instrument called a curet or a specially designed ear suction device is used. Other times warm water is used to flush out the ear canal. Sometimes, earwax is hardened and stuck to the skin of the ear canal making it too difficult or painful to remove. In this case, earwax drops may be used to soften the wax so that it can be removed. If wax continues to build up excessively after it is removed, then your ENT doctor may recommend that you use earwax drops on a regular basis and that you schedule regular ear cleanings.
How to Remove Stubborn Ear Wax at Home
As long as your ear is healthy and does not have tube or a hole in it, at-home treatments can be helpful to manage earwax buildup. An eyedropper can be used to apply a few drops of baby oil, mineral oil or hydrogen peroxide into the ear canal; this is done to soften the wax.
Once soft, after an hour or a few days, the wax is ready to be removed. A rubber-bulb syringe can be used to gently squirt warm water into the ear canal. Once the water has drained out of the ear, the ear should be dried with a towel. This procedure can be repeated several times until the wax has been removed.