6 things you need to know about earwax removal (2024)

Earwax (also called cerumen) is your ear’s natural protectant. But it can be tricky. Earwax can interfere with hearing, cause infections and be downright uncomfortable. Many people think it’s dirty and can’t fight the urge to clean it out, especially if they feel or see it.

But removing or dislodging earwax when there isn’t a medical issue can cause problems deep within your ear. To help you navigate the do’s and don’ts of earwax and ear cleaning, we’ve put together six facts you should know:

1. Earwax is important

Your ear canal has tiny hair and glands that naturally secrete waxy oil. Earwax protects the canal and inner ear as a moisturizer, lubricant and water repellant.

When you use your jaw to talk or chew, the motion helps move the wax toward your ear’s outer opening, where it can drain out. Along the way, the wax gathers and removes harmful dirt, cells and dead skin that can lead to infection.

2. Most people don’t need to clean their ears

Unless the wax in your ears forms a blockage, you shouldn’t have to go out of your way to clean them. Once earwax naturally moves toward the opening of the ear canal, it typically falls out or washes away.

Washing your hair is usually enough to remove the wax on your ear’s surface. During a shower, a small amount of warm water enters the ear canal and loosens any wax accumulated there. Use a damp washcloth to wipe away any wax outside your ear canal.

3. Impacted earwax can be painful

About 5% of adults have excessive or impacted earwax. Some people naturally produce more earwax than others. And earwax that doesn’t move quickly or gathers too much dirt along the way can get hard and dry. Other people produce an average amount of wax, but it can get impacted when earbuds, earplugs or hearing aids interrupt the natural flow.

No matter why it builds up, impacted earwax can affect your hearing and cause discomfort. If you have impacted earwax, you may experience symptoms including:

  • Ear aching
  • Ringing in the ear
  • Impaired hearing
  • Odor
  • Dizziness
  • Coughing

4. Cotton swabs can be bad for your ears

You may be tempted to grab a cotton swab and go to work removing wax as soon as you see or feel it. But you are likely doing more harm than good. Using cotton swabs can:

  • Disrupt the tiny hairs that protect the ear canal
  • Push wax deeper into the ear canal
  • Traumatize the fragile ear canal skin and lead to infection or bleeding

Cotton swabs can help clean the outside of the ear. Just be sure not to insert them into the ear canal.

5. Health care providers can safely remove impacted earwax

Earwax removal is the most common otolaryngologic (ear and throat) procedure performed by primary care physicians (PCPs) in the United States. Your physician knows how to soften and safely remove earwax using special instruments such as a wax spoon, suction device or ear forceps — a long thin tool used to grab earwax.

6. There are safe ways to remove earwax at home

If earwax build-up is common for you, your health care provider may recommend removing it regularly at home before it becomes impacted. You can remove earwax safely at home with:

Softening drops

Over-the-counter ear drops — which often contain hydrogen peroxide as the main ingredient — can help soften hardened wax. Your physician can tell you how many drops to use each day and how many days to use them.

Your PCP may advise against using ear drops if you have:

  • A history of recurrent ear infections
  • Holes in your eardrums
  • Prior ear surgery

Ear irrigation

Irrigating (gently rinsing) your ear canal can reduce the risk of earwax impaction. It involves using a rubber bulb syringe to squirt water or a saline solution into the ear canal. When the water or solution drains out of the ear, it also flushes out loose ear wax.

Use wax-softening ear drops before rinsing out your ear for the best results. And be sure to warm the solution to your body temperature. Cold water can stimulate the vestibular nerve (related to motion and position) and cause dizziness. If you still have symptoms of earwax impaction after flushing your ear, contact your PCP.

6 things you need to know about earwax removal (2024)

FAQs

6 things you need to know about earwax removal? ›

Ear drops alone will clear a plug of earwax in most cases. Put 2 or 3 drops of ordinary olive oil down the ear 2 or 3 times a day for 2-3 weeks. This softens the wax so that it then runs out of its own accord without harming the ear. You can continue for any length of time, but 3 weeks is usually enough.

What is the advice on ear wax removal? ›

Ear drops alone will clear a plug of earwax in most cases. Put 2 or 3 drops of ordinary olive oil down the ear 2 or 3 times a day for 2-3 weeks. This softens the wax so that it then runs out of its own accord without harming the ear. You can continue for any length of time, but 3 weeks is usually enough.

What precautions should be taken after ear wax removal? ›

So it is important to keep your ears dry for a minimum of 4-5 days after treatment. To keep your ears dry when you are washing your hair, showering, bathing or swimming, insert ear plugs or cotton wool coated in petroleum jelly into the outside of the ear canal to act as a protective seal.

What dissolves ear wax immediately? ›

If the aim is to completely break down the wax, waxsol, peroxide 3% or a sodium bicarbonate solution (which can be prepared by your local pharmacist) is effective.

What are some important facts about earwax? ›

Earwax acts as a natural lubricant. The smooth texture keeps our ears lubricated to prevent itchiness and dryness. Earwax can cause hearing loss when a build up occurs. It can also cause symptoms such as dizziness, fullness, earaches, and tinnitus.

How to unblock ears full of wax? ›

Ear irrigation

Another option is irrigating or syringing your ear. This involves using a syringe to rinse out your ear canal with water or saline solution. Generally, you should soften the wax first by using a cerumenolytic solution. Then, you'll gently irrigate your ear with a bulb syringe.

Is it safe to scoop out ear wax? ›

Not only do cotton swabs — and those other aforementioned instruments — not remove ear wax, but they can pose a risk of hearing loss. Using small items of any kind puts us at an increased risk of puncturing the ear drum, which can cause pain, infection and even long-term hearing loss.

Why did a big chunk of ear wax come out of my ear? ›

Chewing, talking and regular bathing is often enough to move earwax up and out of the ear. Usually, earwax gets rinsed away in the shower without you knowing it's happening. But it's possible – and totally normal – for earwax to come out in balls, clumps or lumps. The bigger problem is when earwax stays in your ears.

How to open a blocked ear at home? ›

If your ears are plugged, try swallowing, yawning or chewing sugar-free gum to open your eustachian tubes. If this doesn't work, take a deep breath and try to blow out of your nose gently while pinching your nostrils closed and keeping your mouth shut. If you hear a popping noise, you know you have succeeded.

Do hot showers melt earwax? ›

1. A warm shower. The warmth and humidity of a warm shower can go a long way to soften earwax and make it manageable. Get into the habit of wiping out your ears with a soft, clean cloth after each time you bath.

What does dark brown ear wax mean? ›

If your earwax is dark brown or red-tinged, this could be a sign of an injury within the ear. This could range from a minor scratch in the ear canal to a ruptured eardrum.

What is the color of healthy earwax? ›

Earwax is normal and even healthy. Wax can be a wet or dry consistency. Yellow, orange, or brown is normal. Black, green, or red needs medical attention.

Do I need to do anything before ear wax removal? ›

If you suffer from very hard or compacted earwax, softening the ear wax before the procedure can make it easier for the medical professional to extract the wax. However, it is important to note that you should never assume this applies to you – even if you have had to do it before.

How long should ear wax removal stay in ear? ›

Warm the drops to room temperature before using them 2. Pour a few drops into the affected ear 3. Lie with the affected ear uppermost when putting in drops 4. Stay like this for 10 minutes to allow the drops to soak into the earwax.

How often should you do ear wax removal? ›

For some people, a once-a-year visit to the ear care clinic is often sufficient but for many, having ear wax removed every six months may be recommended. If your ears are naturally prone to produce excessive wax then a quarterly appointment is likely to be needed.

Is it unnecessary to remove ear wax? ›

It's unnecessary

The ear is self-cleaning. No routine maintenance is required. If you're inserting swabs into your ears to remove earwax or prevent its buildup, think again. Earwax is produced within the ear canal and naturally migrates from deeper inside to outside.

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