Symptoms and Signs of Earwax Buildup and Blockage

Doctor's Notes on Earwax Buildup and Blockage

Earwax (cerumen) is produced normally by glands in the outer ear canal to trap small particles (dust, bacteria) and prevent them from reaching your eardrum. Excess buildup in the canal can produce blockage (impaction) that leads to signs and symptoms of decreased hearing, plugged or full sensation in the ear, ear pain, ringing in the ear and dizziness.

The most common cause of earwax blockage is using Q-tips (or other objects) in the ear canal. Instead of removing or cleaning out the ear canal, earwax is pushed in toward the tympanic membrane. Instead of normally slowly moving out of your ear canal, earwax is impacted against the canal and/or tympanic membrane and may harden, thus blocking out sounds and irritating the ear canal. Other objects like hearing aids or swimming earplugs may have the same effect over time.

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.