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 is a good thing.
Cerumen typically clears itself from the ears naturally on it's own, but in some instances can accumulate and cause a blockage.
Symptoms of a cerumen blockage include:
- Sudden Tinnitus (noise in the ear)
- Hearing loss
- Ear pressure
If a blockage occurs, it may need to be removed. This can normally be removed easily at your audiologist's office. Depending on the size and severity of the blockage different removal techniques may be used. If necessary, a referral to an Ear, Nose, and Throat surgeon may be needed for patient comfort and safety.
How Not to Remove Earwax Buildup
People commonly use cotton swabs to try and remove earwax or dislodge a blockage. However, this usually causes more problems than help as cotton swabs may push the blockage further down into the ear canal, risking damage to the ear as well as making removal potentially more difficult and uncomfortable.
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 and injury to the ossicles of the middle ear (the smallest bones in your body).
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.
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 of consistent use to completely clear earwax blockages from your ear at home. 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 audiologist to be sure it is safe for you.
Removal at Your Audiologist's Office
If the earwax blockage is more significant, it may need to be removed in your audiologist's office. Audiologists typically use one of three methods to remove earwax: curettage, irrigation, or suction using a special ear canal vacuum.
Curettage is the most common technique for removal of cerumen and involves the use of a curette or scoop. A curette is a long, curved tool that is used along with lighted magnification to gently scoop cerumen from the ear canal, removing the blockage.
Irrigation is another common method used to remove blockages especially when the blockage is deep in the ear canal. 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.
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.