Earwax Removal

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Earache (Ear Pain) Symptoms

Pain in the ear can occur because of conditions within the ear, the ear canal, or affecting the visible portion of the ear.

Symptoms of impacted ear wax that may cause ear pain include:

  • Hearing problems
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Cough
  • Itching in the ear canal and round the ear
  • Discharge from the ear

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Earwax definition and facts

  • Earwax (ear wax) is a natural substance produced by glands in the skin of the outer ear canal.
  • The wax acts as a helpful coating for the ear canal so removal of it is not necessary. However, in cases of blockage or excessive buildup, it may be necessary to try to remove the impacted or excessive wax.
  • Excessive wax buildup can be caused by putting small things in your ears like a hearing aid, hair pins, headphones, Q-tips, etc. Putting these things in your ear pushes the wax further down the canal. Never stick anything in your ear, including cotton swabs.
  • Signs and symptoms of wax buildup include:
  • There are a number of safe, natural ways to remove earwax at home; however treatment by a doctor or other health-care professional may be necessary.
  • A variety of products and aids available over-the-counter (OTC) for treatment and removal of excessive wax, for example, irrigation kits, which usually include a bulb syringe. Most kits cost less than $20.00.
  • Excessive wax usually only takes a few minutes to remove.
  • The type of doctor or other health-care professional to see if you need your ears cleaned include primary care, pediatricians, or ear nose and throat specialists (otolaryngologists).
  • Ear candling is not a recommended way to remove earwax because it poses health risks.
  • You can help prevent excessive wax buildup if you and don’t push or put objects in your ears and care for them properly. Currently, there are no other effective methods available to prevent buildup.

What is ear wax?

The skin on the outer part of the ear canal has special glands that produce ear wax, also known as cerumen. We have this natural wax is to protect the ear from damage and infections. Normally, a small amount of wax accumulates and then dries up and falls out of the ear canal, carrying with it unwanted dust or sand particles.

Ear wax is helpful to coat the skin of the ear canal where it acts as a temporary water repellent. The absence of ear wax may result in dry, itchy ears, and even infection. Ear wax is formed in the outer third of the ear canal.

Why does earwax vary in color and texture?

Cerumen varies in form, color, and appearance from person to person.

  • It may be almost liquid, firm and solid, or dry and flaky.
  • The color of ear wax varies depending upon its composition.
  • Glandular secretions, sloughed skin cells, normal bacteria present on the surface of the canal, and water may all be in earwax.

Ear Wax Illustration
Ear Wax Illustration

The ear canals are considered to be self-cleaning. This means that ear wax and sloughed skin cells typically pass on their own from the inside of the ear canal to the outer opening. Old earwax moves from the deeper areas of the canal out to the opening. At the opening of the canal the ear wax usually dries up and falls out of the canal.

Is it OK to remove earwax blockage?

Under ideal circumstances, a person should never need to clean his or her ear canals. However, sometimes removal of wax is necessary and requires medical treatment.

What causes wax in the ears to build up?

You can have excessive earwax build up and harden by:

  • Narrowing of the canal resulting from infections or diseases of the skin, bones, or connective tissue
  • Production of a less fluid form of cerumen (more common in older persons due to aging of the glands that produce it).
  • Overproduction of cerumen in response to trauma or blockage within the canal.
  • Things that you put in your ears to clean them like swabs, Q-tips, hair pins or keys.
  • Hearing aids
  • Earphones that are placed inside the ears

What signs and symptoms are related to excessive or impacted (plug) earwax?

Excessive wax in the ears can cause different symptoms and signs, including:

When wax plugs the ear canal it can affect your hearing. Researchers estimate that hearing can be improved by 10 decibels when the plug is removed.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/14/2017

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