What Dissolves Ear Wax Fast?

Reviewed on 2/10/2022
Woman sticking a Q-tip into her ear and wincing
The fastest way to get rid of ear wax is to see a doctor, who can treat it with special instruments. Ear drops and home remedies such as a cotton ball soaked in saline solution can also help.

Ear wax (cerumen) is a natural coating in the ear canal that helps protect the skin of the external ear canal from water damage, infection, trauma, and foreign bodies. 

When ear wax accumulates enough to cause symptoms, it is considered “impacted.” When impacted ear wax causes no symptoms, treatment may not be needed and ear wax may go away on its own over time. 

How to Remove Ear Wax

If you have symptoms of impacted earwax, treatment includes: 

  • The fastest way to get rid of ear wax is to see a doctor who has special instruments to visualize the inside of the ear canal and special tools and procedures used to remove the ear wax completely and safely
    • Rinsing 
    • Special tools used by a medical professional to remove ear wax including small sticks, hooks, and spoons and tools that use suction to pull the wax out
  • Ear drops to dissolve ear wax
    • Many are available over-the-counter (OTC)
    • Water-based ear drops contain ingredients such as acetic acid, hydrogen peroxide, or sodium bicarbonate
    • Oil-based ear drops lubricate and soften earwax
  • Home remedy to get rid of ear wax
    • Soak a cotton ball and drip a few drops of a simple saline solution, or hydrogen peroxide into the ear with the head tilted so the opening of the ear is pointing up
    • Keep the head in that position for a minute to allow gravity to pull the fluid down through the wax, then tilt the head the other way to allow the fluid and wax to drain out
    • A bulb syringe may also be used to swish out the ear
    • Do not use a bulb syringe if you have a damaged eardrum 

Do NOT: 

  • Use a cotton swab (Q-tip) to clean your ears 
    • This can push wax deeper into the ears and cause or worsen impaction 
  • Use “ear candling,” which involves lighting one end of a hollow candle and putting the other end in the ear
    • This method does not work and can cause ear injury and burns

What Are Symptoms of Impacted Ear Wax?

Impacted ear wax usually doesn’t cause problems, but may cause bothersome symptoms in one or both ears, such as:

More serious symptoms may be signs of infection. See a doctor if you experience any of the following: 

  • Fever
  • Drainage from the ear canal 
  • Odor from the ear 
  • Severe pain 
  • Itching 
  • Sudden hearing loss
  • Loss of balance, or inability to walk 
  • Spinning sensation (vertigo)
  • Persistent vomiting 

What Causes Impacted Ear Wax?

Causes of ear wax impaction include:

  • Diseases that affect the ear, including skin problems that cause excess skin cell shedding, such as eczema
  • Narrow ear canal 
    • Can occur from birth
    • May become narrower after an ear injury
    • Can occur following severe or multiple ear infections
  • Changes in ear wax and lining due to aging
    • Ear wax becomes harder and thicker as people age
  • Improper ear-cleaning habits
    • Use of cotton swabs (Q-Tips) or other tools can push ear wax deeper into the ear canal 
  • Production of too much ear wax 
    • Some people naturally produce more ear wax
    • Can occur if water is trapped in the ear
    • Can be caused by injury to the ear
  • Bony blockage (osteoma or exostoses) 
  • Infection, such as swimmer’s ear (external otitis) 
  • Autoimmune disease such as lupus

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Reviewed on 2/10/2022
Image Source: iStock Images