Ear Wax (cont.)

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When should ear wax be removed?

Under ideal circumstances, a person should never have to clean their ear canals. However, sometimes removal of ear wax is necessary. Excessive ear wax may build up in the ear canal for many of reasons including:

  • narrowing of the ear 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 ear wax); or
  • overproduction of cerumen in response to trauma or blockage within the ear canal.

How should ear wax be removed?

Many cases of ear wax respond to home treatments. It is possible to try using a few drops of mineral oil, baby oil, or glycerin in the ear to soften the wax. Hydrogen peroxide drops can also be used. There are also over-the-counter products (OTC) available to remove ear wax, such as Debrox or Murine Ear Drops. If the ear still feels blocked after using these drops, a physician should be consulted. If the person does try OTC ear wax softeners, it is imperative to know that he or she does not have a perforated (punctured) eardrum prior to using the product. Putting ear wax softeners in the ear in the presence of a perforated eardrum may cause an infection in the middle ear. Similarly, simply washing one's ear in the presence of a perforation may start an infection. If a person is uncertain whether or not he or she has a perforation (hole) in the eardrum, consult a physician. Some individuals may also be hypersensitive to products designed to soften ear wax. Therefore, if pain, tenderness or a local skin rash develops, the use of these drops should be discontinued.

When wax has accumulated so much that it blocks the ear canal (and interferes with hearing), a physician may have to wash it out (known as lavage), remove it by suctioning, or remove it with special instruments. Alternatively, a physician may prescribe ear drops that are designed to soften the wax (such as trolamine polypeptide oleate-ear drops [Cerumenex]).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/23/2013

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