Blockage due to earwax is one of the most common cause of temporary hearing loss and earache. Earwax or cerumen is a yellowish waxy oil produced by glands in the ear canal. It works as an antiseptic by slowing down bacterial growth, traps the dust particles, and lubricates the ear canal. Despite being a prevalent condition, it is very often underdiagnosed and likely underrated.
- Risk factors
- Misconceptions regarding earwax
- When to consult a doctor?
Symptoms of earwax blockage
Symptoms of cerumen impaction only develop in the affected ear, once there is a blockage following excessive buildup of wax. Some of the commonly experienced symptoms are:
- Feeling of fullness in the ear
- Temporary hearing loss
Unremoved cerumen can cause the symptoms to aggravate, including:
- The odor from the ear
- Infection-related fever
- Permanent hearing loss
- Severe pain in the ear
- Discharge from the ear
Causes of earwax blockage
Ear wax buildup is a problem in 10 percent of children and 30 percent of adults and cognitively impaired individuals. The skin lining the ear canal is responsible for cerumen production, while small hair in these canals trap the dust particle and prevent them from traveling to the eardrum. In normal circumstances, a small amount of wax travels to the opening of the canal, where it falls out or is washed away and glands produce more wax to replace it. Sometimes, while you are trying to clean your ear with an earbud and remove the wax, you accidentally push the wax deeper into the ear canal. Other causes are excessive production of wax or slow removal.
Some individuals are more at risk to get their ears blocked due to impacted wax:
- People who use earbuds or cotton swabs to clean their ears
- Those who use hearing aids or earphones
- People with certain skin conditions
- Elder people
- Those with disabilities
- People with structural deformity of the ear
- People with growths outside the canal, impeding the removal of wax
- People with hairy ear canals
Complications of earwax blockage
Impacted wax can lead to a lot of complications if not removed on time:
- Infection and inflammation
- Tympanic membrane perforation
- Temporary hearing loss, eventually ending up in permanent hearing loss
- In younger children, temporary hearing loss can lead to impaired speech
Misconceptions around earwax
There are several misconceptions regarding ear wax, some of these are:
- Earwax is a sign of bad hygiene:
- Earwax is produced as a protective mechanism by the ears to trap the dirt particles and lubricate the canals.
- Earwax should be regularly removed:
- Normally, ears clean themselves by getting rid of the excessive ear wax and regular cleaning is not required.
- Earwax candles are the best way to remove wax:
- FDA has marked ear coning or candling as an unsafe practice. It can cause burns in the ear canal, perforate the eardrum, and lead to infections.
How to prevent earwax blockage?
Blockage of ears due to wax buildup can be easily prevented by:
- Avoiding the use of cotton swabs, earbuds, and bobby pins to clean the ear
- Limiting the use of hearing aids, earphones, and other such appliances
- Avoid putting any sort of drops or oils in the ear if your ears already produce excess cerumen
Management of earwax blockage
Ear wax buildup and blockage is very common and benign condition that can be easily managed.
Your doctor will use an otoscope to visualize the ear canal to look for the following:
- Amount of wax
- Presence of blood, pus, or any other sort of discharge
- Eardrum perforation
- Any skin conditions that may have caused the accumulation
- Any growth in the canal
It is an out-patient scenario that can be easily treated in one sitting, either medically or surgically:
- Pain killers for earache
- An antibiotic in case of an infection
- Cerumenolytic solutions to dissolve the wax, such as hydrogen peroxide, glycerin, and saline solution
Your ENT doctor may have to remove the wax manually if other treatment options fail. This includes:
- Ear irrigation using normal saline and a jet irrigator
- Suctioning of wax
- Removal of impacted wax using a curette
When to consult a doctor?
Although ear wax buildup is a normal phenomenon in case of severe blockage resulting in deafness, discharge, earache, or tinnitus, you should consult your physician as soon as possible.
What is the safest way to remove ear wax?
Ear wax is washed out on its own, thus it is not required to clean the ears. However, in case of excessive build-up consult your otorhinolaryngologist.
How can you avoid excessive wax accumulation?
- Avoid cleaning your ears again and again
- Don’t use earbuds, hearing aids, or cotton buds
- Maintain hygiene
Is hydrogen peroxide safe to use in the ear?
Hydrogen peroxide is an antiseptic but has highly oxidative properties. putting this into the ear can cause irritation of the skin which can lead to inflammation and earache.