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 typically 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. However, this can sometimes cause more problems as cotton swabs 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.
Audiologists 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 audiologist may send patients home with an at-home ear wax 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 is 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. 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 doctor to be sure it is safe for you.
In-Office Earwax Removal
If the earwax blockage is more significant, it may need to be removed in your our office. Audiologists typically use one of three methods to remove earwax: curettage, suction, or irrigation.
One common method is curettage, which involves the use of a curette. A curette is a long, curved tool that is used along with suction to gently scrape cerumen the ear canal, removing the blockage.
Suction is a method in which the audiologist utilizes a tiny vacuum to gently remove wax from the ear canal.
Irrigation is a another method your audiologist will use to remove blockages. Unlike at-home ear wax removal kids, your audiologist may use stronger ear wax removal medications in conjunction with irrigation. Carbamide peroxide is typically the main ingredient in these medications. Suction follows irrigation to remove any liquid from the canal so that an infection does not develop as a result of standing fluid in the ear canal.
If you experience pain, discomfort, or reduced hearing as a result of earwax, or suspect you have a blockage, it's important that you see your audiologist as soon as possible to address the issue. Removing earwax doesn't have to be painful and should bring you relief.