Cerumen, also known as earwax, is naturally produced by the glands in the ears to lubricate the ear canals and keep dust and debris from getting too far down in the ear canal.
Cerumen typically clears itself from the ears, but in some instances can accumulate and cause a blockage, especially if you wear earmolds or hearing aids.
Symptoms of a cerumen blockage include:
- Tinnitus (ringing of the ears)
- Decreased hearing
- Feeling of ear fullness
If a blockage occurs, it may need to be removed. This can be done at home or at our office, depending on the size and severity of the blockage. We will determine if we are able to remove your earwax based upon the amount and placement within the ear canal. If we are unable to remove your earwax, we will either recommend that you do at-home removal or refer you to a specialist that can.
At-home earwax removal
In some instances, we may send patients home with an at-home earwax removal kit. Earwax removal kits can also be purchased over the counter in most drug stores.
These kits generally consist of a liquid that softens earwax and a small rubber bulb syringe. You will be given directions on how much and how often to apply the liquid to your ear canals, allowing it to soak in the ear for 30 minutes in your ears to soften up the earwax. Bubbling and fizzing sensations in your ears are normal with use. You then MUST then use the bulb syringe to gently flush your ears with warm (not hot) water to remove the earwax. If you don’t use the bulb syringe, the softened wax will remain in your ear and cause a bigger problem than you started with. We recommend that you perform this treatment 2-3 days in a row, because it may take several days to completely clear earwax blockages from your ear. There are contraindications to using these kits in some people and with some ear conditions. Before attempting at-home earwax removal, it is advised to speak with your hearing care provider to be sure it is safe for you. Do not use earwax removal drops if you have a perforation (hole in your ear) or pressure equalization tubes. Let us look in your ears before using earwax removal drops.
Earwax removal methods to avoid
People commonly use cotton swabs to try and remove earwax or dislodge a blockage. However, this can sometimes cause more problems as cotton swabs may push the blockage further down into the ear canal, risking even more damage to the ear.
Cotton swabs themselves can also be accidentally inserted too far into the ear canal and can compact wax further or puncture your eardrum.
Physicians generally agree that cotton swabs are a bad idea for removing earwax and should only be used on the outer portions of your ear. You should never insert cotton swabs or any small object into your ear canal.
Ear candles. I cannot stress enough the dangers of using ear candles. I know you are curious, but they don’t work and you can really hurt yourself.
Removal at your hearing provider’s office
If the earwax blockage is more significant, it may need to be removed at Ascent Audiology & Hearing or at an Ear Nose and Throat office. Audiologists and ENTs typically use one of three methods to remove earwax: irrigation, suction or curettage.
We do not perform irrigation removal in our office, but it is the most common method to remove blockages. Walk in clinics and primary care physicians usually provide this service. Unlike at-home earwax removal kits, they may use stronger earwax removal medications in conjunction with irrigation. Carbamide peroxide is typically the main ingredient in these medications.
We use curettage, which involves the use of a curette. A curette is a long, curved tool used to remove cerumen from the ear canal. If the earwax is non-occluding and we are able to, we will insert a curette through an opening of the debris and pull it out of the canal. This is our preferred method for removal as it allows us to continue testing following the procedure.
If you experience pain or discomfort as a result of earwax or suspect you have a blockage, it’s important that you call us as soon as possible to address the issue. There may be some initial discomfort, but removing earwax isn’t painful and should bring you relief.