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Earwax Buildup and Blockage

Earwax Buildup and Blockage Facts

  • Earwax (cerumen) is produced by glands in the outer ear canal to trap small particles and prevent them from reaching and damaging the eardrum.
  • A blockage of earwax (impaction) occurs when the wax gets pushed deep within the ear canal or fills the width of the canal.
  • The most common cause of earwax blockage is using Q-tips in the ear canal (and other objects such as bobby pins and rolled napkin corners), which pushes the wax deeper into the ear canal.
  • Hearing aid and earplug users are also more prone to earwax blockage.
  • Symptoms and signs of earwax buildup or blockage include
  • An earwax blockage (or eardrum perforation) can be diagnosed by the patient's symptoms and looking into the ear with an otoscope.
  • Home remedies to remove excess earwax buildup at home include over-the-counter (OTC) softening ear drops, or a bulb type syringe to gently flush the ear with warm water. Ear candles are not recommended for removing earwax.
  • Medical treatment for earwax buildup and blockage removal may include instruments to remove the earwax or by irrigating the ear with warm water or prescription eardrops (cerumenolytic agents).
  • Excess earwax buildup, blockage, or impaction may be prevented by avoiding use of cotton-tipped swabs and other objects that can push earwax deeper into the ear canal.
  • The prognosis for excess earwax buildup or blockage is generally good, though complications can include perforated eardrum, middle-ear infection, swimmer's ear (external-ear infection), and permanent hearing loss from acoustic trauma.

What Is Earwax, and Does It Have a Purpose?

  • Earwax (also spelled ear wax), medically referred to as cerumen, is produced by glands in the outer ear canal.
  • Its purpose is to trap dust and other small particles and prevent them from reaching and potentially damaging the eardrum.
  • Earwax also may prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi in the ear canal.

What Causes Earwax?

Blockage, or impaction of earwax occurs when the wax gets pushed deep within the ear canal or fills the width of the canal. Earwax buildup and blockage affects about 6% of people and is the most common ear problem doctors see.

  • The most common cause earwax buildup and blockage is the use of Q-tips in the ear canal (and other objects such as bobby pins and rolled napkin corners), which pushes the wax deeper into the ear canal.
  • Hearing aid and earplug users are also more prone to earwax blockage.

What Does Earwax Buildup and Blockage Look Like (Picture)?

Picture of the ear and earwax build-up
Picture of the ear and earwax build-up
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/22/2016
Medical Author:

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The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Earwax (Excess Buildup and Blockage):

Earwax Buildup and Blockage - Experience

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Earwax Buildup and Blockage - Causes

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Earwax Buildup and Blockage - Symptoms

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Earwax - Treatment and Removal

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Cerumen Impaction Removal »

Removal of cerumen (wax) from the ear is a significant amount of the workload of an otolaryngologist and is, therefore, an essential skill to master.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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