What to Do (and Not Do) If You Have an Ear Wax Blockage (2024)

An ear wax blockage can affect your hearing or lead to anear infection. It's not clear why ear wax blockages happen, but some people may just make too much ear wax.

Your ears do need some wax in them because it protects the inner parts of the ear (like the eardrum) from debris, keeps the skin moist, and has infection-suppressing properties. Under normal circ*mstances, the ear canal self-cleans, but there are times when the ear gets plugged up with wax.

This article will go over what to do—and not do—if you have an ear wax blockage. You’ll also learn why you probably won’t be able to get relief from an ear wax blockage on your own, and how your healthcare provider can help.

An ear wax blockage is generally not considered a medical emergency, but it’s best to have it removed by a healthcare provider who has experience treating disorders of the ears (such as an otolaryngologist or otologist).

What to Do (and Not Do) If You Have an Ear Wax Blockage (1)

An Overview of Ear Wax

Soften Hard Earwax

Over-the-counter (OTC) ear drops, such as Ceruminex and Murine, use hydrogen peroxide or enzymes to soften and loosen ear wax so that it can come out. Your provider might want you to try these products to soften any ear wax and make it easier to remove.You should not use these products if you have a hole in your ear drum.

However, these products have disadvantages: They usually only work for small blockages and are not safe to use if your eardrum has ruptured.Research also has not shown that certain products or ingredients are better or worse than any others—or even better than water—at removing ear wax.

Keep in mind that you do not want to use these drops often or to try to prevent blockages as your ears do need some wax to stay healthy.

How to Use OTC Ear Drops

Massage Your Ears

If your ears feel uncomfortably full of wax, you may naturally have the urge to massage your ears or the space behind them to ease the discomfort. While there's no formal research or recommendation about ear massaging for ear wax, you might find it helpful while you're waiting to see a provider for treatment.

To massage ear wax out or loosen the ear wax, try the following:

  • Place your pointer and middle fingers behind your ear lobe.
  • Press in and make slow circles.
  • Tip your head to one side to encourage the wax to drain.

Use a Bulb Syringe

A healthcare provider may use a syringe full of lukewarm water to flush the wax out of your ear. Many of the OTC ear wax treatment kits come with a soft bulb syringe that helps you easily irrigate your ear with water at home.

Sometimes, letting a little bit of water sit in the ear before irrigating will help loosen the wax. It should not hurt, but you may feel a little dizzy or nauseated. You can reduce the risk of dizziness if you use water that is warm and close to your body temperature.

One important job of your inner ear is helping you feel and stay physically balanced. Sometimes, putting water into your ear canal (especially if it’s too cold or hot) can temporarily disrupt the system.

Some healthcare providers use a water jet device such as a WaterPik for irrigation, but this is not the best method because it can cause discomfort and may damage the ear. Water irrigation should never be done if you have a ruptured ear drum because it can lead to an infection.

Scooping Out Wax

A healthcare provider may opt to remove the wax by using a curette or a cerumen spoon. A curette looks like a tiny spoon with a long handle. With help from an otoscope or microscope so that they can see what they are doing, a provider uses the curette to scoop out excess ear wax. This strategy can be done in a provider’s office and is usually very effective and not uncomfortable.

Do not attempt to scoop out ear wax yourself. This method should only be used by a healthcare provider because there is a risk of injury (like perforating the ear drum).

What Not to Do

There are also some things that might be advertised or claimed to help with an ear wax blockage, but that could be unsafe.

  • Using cotton swabs or putting anything else in your ear: According to theAmerican Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery,you should avoid using a cotton swab or sharp object to try to remove wax yourself. You may push the wax down further in the ear, creating or worsening an ear wax blockage, or you may accidentally puncture the eardrum.
  • Ear candling: Ear candling is supposed to remove wax from the ear, but studies have shown that this method is not only ineffective but potentially dangerous. This is generally done with a long fabric cone. The small end is inserted in the ear and then a flame is used to draw out the wax.
  • Vacuum kits: Vacuuming or home suctioning devices are sold as "do-it-yourself kits. However, these methods have not been proven to be safe and effective, and they are not the same as the type of suctioning procedure a healthcare provider can do for ear wax removal.

Is Ear Candling Safe?

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you get ear wax blockages often, you should see a provider to have them removed safely and talk about steps you might be able to take to avoid them.

A healthcare provider can look for an ear wax blockage using a special instrument such as an otoscope. The exam is usually not uncomfortable and lets your provider look into your ears to check for too much wax.

You should seek medical care right away if:

  • You have discharge from the ear that is pus-filled or bloody.
  • You notice a clear discharge from the ear after getting hit on the head.
  • You think your eardrum might be perforated.
  • Your hearing is reduced or you cannot hear at all.
  • There is swelling and redness behind the ear.
  • You or your child has a fever over 104 F.

If you think you or your child may have an ear infection but do not have these serious symptoms, call your provider and make an appointment to be seen or go to urgent care.

Signs of a Ruptured Ear Drum

Signs of a ruptured ear drum include:

  • Pain or discomfort
  • Buzzing or ringing in the ears
  • Loss of hearing
  • Discharge from the ear (which can be bloody)

What Causes a Ruptured Ear Drum?


Some people just make a lot of ear wax and blockages may happen. You may not always be able to avoid them, but there are some things your provider might recommend you try to prevent ear wax blockages.

A 2005 study suggested that putting ceridal lipolotion (a lotion to treatdry skin) into the ear canal with a syringe once a week for 12 weeksmay have helped prevent an ear wax blockage.

Some people suggest putting a few drops of clean baby oil, mineral oil, orolive oilin the ear three or four times a week. With this method, you put thedrops in one ear and let the oil sit for a few minutes. Then, you lay down on a clean towel and let the excess run out. When you’re done, treat the other ear the same way.

You can’t always prevent ear wax from building up and blocking your ears—especially if you’re just naturally prone to making more of it. While you should have enough wax in your ears to keep them healthy, you might be able to prevent too much from building up by:

  • Managing any conditions that you have (like disorders that cause skin flakiness) that could be contributing to excess ear wax
  • Asking your provider about using OTC drops other products to help keep your ears clean
  • Scheduling a regular ear cleaning with a specialist according to their recommendations
  • Keeping any devices that go on or in your ear (like hearing aids or earbuds) clean

You should not use OTC products or home remedies for ear wax if you have or think that you have a ruptured eardrum.


An ear wax blockage can be uncomfortable, but there are strategies a provider can use to safely unclog your ears. You can’t always prevent a buildup of ear wax (especially if you’re prone to making too much of it). However, if you find yourself frequenting your provider’s office to have your ears cleaned out, talk to them about whether there are any at-home strategies you can try to prevent the buildup.

How to Put in Ear Drops

15 Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Nemours KidsHealth. Ear wax.

  2. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery. Earwax (Cerumen Impaction).

  3. Aaron KA, Cooper TE, Warner L, Burton MJ. Ear drops for the removal of ear wax.The Cochrane library. 2018;2018(10). doi:10.1002/14651858.cd012171.pub2

  4. Schwartz SR, Magit AE, Rosenfeld RM, et al. Clinical Practice Guideline (Update): Earwax (Cerumen Impaction) [published correction appears in Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2017 Sep;157(3):539].Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2017;156(1_suppl):S1-S29.

  5. UC San Diego. Ear wax.

  6. Keck School of Medicine. Feeling off balance? The problem might be in your ears.

  7. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery. Ear wax.

  8. Schwartz SR, Magit AE, Rosenfeld RM, et al. Clinical practice guideline (update): Earwax (cerumen impaction) executive summary [published correction appears in Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2017 Sep;157(3):539].Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2017;156(1):14-29. doi:10.1177/0194599816678832

  9. Radford JC. Treatment of impacted ear wax: a case for increased community-based microsuction.BJGP Open. 2020;4(2):bjgpopen20X101064. Published 2020 Jun 23. doi:10.3399/bjgpopen20X101064

  10. Seattle Children's. Ear discharge.

  11. Mount Sinai. Ruptured eardrum.

  12. Saloranta K, Westermarck T. Prevention of cerumen impaction by treatment of ear canal skin. A pilot randomized controlled study.Clin Otolaryngol. 2005;30(2):112-114. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2273.2004.00952.x

  13. Nationwide Children's. Ear wax.

  14. Cedars Sinai. Impacted ear wax.

  15. American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery. Earwax prevention.

Additional Reading

What to Do (and Not Do) If You Have an Ear Wax Blockage (2)

By Kristin Hayes, RN
Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.

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What to Do (and Not Do) If You Have an Ear Wax Blockage (2024)


What to Do (and Not Do) If You Have an Ear Wax Blockage? ›

What to do if you think your ear is blocked. Do not try to remove a build-up of earwax yourself with your fingers, a cotton bud or any other object. This can damage your ear and push the wax further down.

What to do when you have earwax blockage? ›

If earwax buildup continues, you may need to visit your health care provider once or twice a year for regular cleaning. Your health care provider may also recommend that you use earwax-softening agents such as saline, mineral oil or olive oil. This helps loosen the wax so that it can leave the ear more easily.

How to remove ear wax blockage fast? ›

Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda in 2 ounces of warm water. If you have a dropper bottle, pour the solution into it. Tilt your head to the side and gently drip 5 to 10 drops of the solution into your ear, 1 drop at a time. Leave the solution in the ear for up to 1 hour, then flush with water.

Will an earwax blockage clear on its own? ›

Earwax blockage that has no symptoms can sometimes clear on its own. However, if you have signs and symptoms of earwax blockage, talk to your health care provider. Signs and symptoms may signal another condition.

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.

What dissolves impacted earwax? ›

Use solutions to dissolve earwax

You can use cerumenolytic solutions (solutions to dissolve wax) in your ear canal. These solutions include: Saline solution. Baby oil.

How do you get rid of earwax in 30 seconds? ›

Soak a cotton ball with the hydrogen peroxide. Tilt your head and drip the peroxide into your ear. You may hear it fizz as it tries to dissolve the earwax. After about 30 seconds, drain your ear onto a washcloth.

How do you massage ear wax blockage? ›

Massage Your Ears

To massage ear wax out or loosen the ear wax, try the following: Place your pointer and middle fingers behind your ear lobe. Press in and make slow circles. Tip your head to one side to encourage the wax to drain.

How do you open your ear full of wax? ›

Soften and loosen the earwax with warm mineral oil. You also can try hydrogen peroxide mixed with an equal amount of room temperature water. Place 2 drops of the fluid, warmed to body temperature, in the ear two times a day for up to 5 days.

How to scoop out earwax? ›

Step 1: Always wash thoroughly with alcohol or soap and water before and after using, especially if multiple people are using these tools. Step 2: Slowly insert the scoop ear wax remover into your ear canal. Step 3: Gently scoop your ear canal wall to loosen the ear wax clinging on the wall.

What happens if you can't get wax out of your ear? ›

It's possible for unremoved earwax to lead to an ear infection like swimmer's ear, causing worsening symptoms such as: severe pain, itchiness, drainage, fever, coughing and dizziness. If you notice signs of infection, you should make an appointment to see your primary care doctor.

Will deep earwax eventually come out? ›

The short answer is that it is unlikely. While it is true that our ears are self-cleaning, and wax should be carried out of the ear canal naturally, if your ear wax has built up to the point that it is symptomatic, and impacted, you may need a little more help.

What to do if I pushed my earwax too deep? ›

Use an eyedropper to insert a few drops into your ear canal twice a day for four to five days to soften the wax. Once the wax is soft, it should come out on its own within a few days. Another home care option is irrigation. Fill a rubber ball syringe with warm water, tilt your head, and gently squeeze the syringe.

How to flush your ears at home? ›

If ear cleaning drops don't work, the ears might need flushing with a bulb syringe, which are available at drug stores or grocery stores. You'll want to fill the syringe with warm water, place it near your ear opening, and carefully squeeze the bulb. The warm water will flood your ear and break up the wax.

How to get something deep out of your ear? ›

By placing the affected ear down and gently wiggling the ear pinna, you may be able to shift the object enough to cause it to fall out. If an object becomes lodged in the ear and this technique fails, it is usually best to have it removed by a doctor who can view the object with proper lighting and instruments.

How to syringe out ear wax? ›

Hold the nozzle inside the ear canal (not too deeply) and gently squirt the water from the bulb syringe into the ear. You can gently squirt more water into the ear if needed. Leave the water in your ear for 1-3 minutes to soften the wax. Tilt your head over the sink so the water can fall out.

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