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 naturally clears itself from the ears, but in some instances can accumulate and cause a blockage.
Symptoms of a cerumen blockage include:
- Tinnitus (noise in the ear)
- Hearing loss
- Ear pressure
If a blockage occurs, it may need to be removed. This can be done at home or at your doctor's office, depending on the size and severity of the blockage.
How Not to Remove Earwax Buildup
People commonly use cotton swabs to try and remove earwax or dislodge a blockage. This is not recommended as it can often cause more problems, because the swab 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 potentially damage your ear, including the possibility of rupturing your eardrum.
Ear candles are another method that people use, but it can be dangerous and not a safe method to use. Having a flame near your ear can cause injury to the eardrum, such as a burn on the eardrum or in the ear canal.
At-Home Earwax Removal
In some instances, your physician 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 sit for awhile in your ears to soften up the earwax. Bubbling and fizzing sensations in your ears are normal with use. You will then use the bulb syringe to gently flush your ears with warm water to remove the earwax. It may take several days to completely clear earwax blockages from your ear. For some patients, these kits should not be used, so before attempting at-home earwax removal, it is recommended that you speak with your doctor to be sure it is safe for you.
Removal at Your Doctor's Office
If the earwax blockage is more significant, it may need to be removed in your doctor's office. Doctors typically use one of two methods to remove earwax: irrigation or curettage.
Irrigation is a method in which which the cerumen is flushed out of the ear. Unlike at-home earwax removal kits, your doctor may use stronger earwax removal medications in conjunction with irrigation. Carbamide peroxide is typically the main ingredient in these medications.
Another method is curettage, which involves the use of a curette. A curette is a long, curved tool that is used and can be paired with suction to gently scrape cerumen from the ear canal, removing the blockage.
If you experience pain or discomfort as a result of earwax, or suspect you have a blockage, it's important that you see your doctor as soon as possible to address the issue. Removing earwax doesn't have to be painful and should bring you relief.