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Impacted Earwax: How to Deal With it and Prevent Pain and Hearing Loss

Impacted Earwax: How to Deal With it and Prevent Pain and Hearing Loss

Earwax or cerumen is a viscous substance secreted in the ear canal to protect the ears from foreign particles and to keep them lubricated to prevent infections. The ears have a self-cleaning mechanism that pushes earwax to the outer part of the ear through chewing or other jaw movements. It naturally falls off as flakes around the outer ear. When earwax blocks the ear canal (impacted earwax), it can cause a feeling of ears being plugged and sometimes ringing sensation which can lead to temporary hearing loss if left untreated.

Impacted Earwax: When to Be Cause for Concern?

Earwax normally clears itself up if there’s too much inside the ear canals. There are different factors that make someone more prone to earwax buildup than others:

  • Hairy and narrow ear canals make it easier for earwax to latch on more
  • Ear canals shaped to be harder to naturally self-clean
  • Using hearing aids that are placed further inside the ears
  • Cleaning ears using cotton swabs which push the earwax farther than it should be

When the ears cannot clean themselves properly, it will cause a buildup in the ear canal and can even block up until the eardrums. This becomes problematic especially if you can’t hear as well as before.

Risks of Impacted Earwax

Aside from the possible hearing loss, impacted earwax can also manifest with the following symptoms which need to be consulted to a doctor:

  • Mild hearing loss
  • Earache
  • Plugged up ears
  • Hearing feels like you are underwater
  • Tinnitus or the ringing in your ears
  • Discharge and/or odor coming from the ears
  • Dizziness

These symptoms might be tolerable at first, but if left untreated, can cause ear infection and irritation. It also does not help if it is left too long as it will make removal more difficult.

Ways to Treat and Prevent Impacted Earwax

Both the patient and the doctor can help out in improving the condition of impacted earwax. These steps should be consulted with a professional first to know if these will help improve the ears.

Professional Treatment

There are 3 ways for doctors to treat impacted earwax.

  • Use cerumenolytic liquids such as mineral or baby oil, saline solution, and diluted hydrogen peroxide. A few drops of these liquids into the ears will soften and dissolve the earwax.
  • Cleaning the inside of the ears using irrigation. Water and hydrogen peroxide solution is gently inserted in the ear canals using a syringe. It is removed by letting it naturally flow out by tipping the ears to the sides. As ears are highly sensitive, this should only be done with the aid of a professional.
  • Manual removal is another way to remove hardened ear wax using specialized tools. This may include a small camera to guide the user to where the impacted earwax is. There are some devices that have suction in them to remove the earwax once it has been scraped out.

Prevention Tips

Here are some tips to prevent impacted earwax. It will help doctors to remove dry earwax and to minimize them.

  • Make sure to clean the outer ear including the earlobes to remove excess liquids and flakes.
  • Use cerumenolytic liquids once a week to prevent earwax buildup. Make sure to follow the doctor’s instructions on how to use it.
  • Never use cotton swabs to clean the inside of the ears. It causes more harm than good as it pushes the earwax inside instead of removing them.
  • Ask your doctor to treat skin conditions

Other Tips

There are some cleaning methods such as ear candling and DIY kits that are available in the market. If these are not suggested by your doctor, they should not be used. Ear candling may cause burns and scars in the ear canal that can cause irreversible damage to your hearing.

Key Takeaways

Earwax or cerumen is something normal to have in the body as it protects and lubricates the ears to work properly. It can also cause difficulties in hearing when it builds up. Impacted earwax can be treated and prevented. Consult your doctor for proper removal.

Learn more about Ear Conditions here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Earwax Buildup & Blockage, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14428-ear-wax-buildup–blockage, Accessed March 25, 2021

Earwax blockage – Diagnosis and Treatment, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/earwax-blockage/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20353007, Accessed March 25, 2021

A to Z: Impacted Cerumen (for Parents), https://kidshealth.org/Nemours/en/parents/az-impacted-cerumen.html, Accessed March 25, 2021

Cerumen Impaction Removal, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448155/, Accessed March 25, 2021

Earwax build-up, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/earwax-build-up/, Accessed March 25, 2021

Ear wax, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/ear-wax, Accessed March 25, 2021

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Written by Elaine Felicitas Updated Jun 20
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
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