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Earwax

Earwax coats and protects the lining of the ear canal. It filters dust and helps keep the ears clean. Normally, earwax is soft and drains by itself. Sometimes it hardens and forms a plug.

Signs &

Symptoms

Causes

Prevention

Self-Care

When to Seek

Medical Care

Image of doctor and patient.

Signs and symptoms of earwax buildup are:

•  Blocked or plugged feeling in the ear

•  Partial hearing loss (temporary)

•  Ringing in the ear

•  Ear discomfort or pain

•  Exposure to excessive dust or dirt

•  A family history of earwax buildup

Simple earwax build-up can be treated using self-care. If self-care doesn’t take care of the problem, a doctor can clear the earwax with a special vacuum, scoop, or water-pik-like device.

Image of doctor checking patients ear.
Image of construction worker with earplugs.

•  Wear earplugs when exposed to excessive dust or dirt.

•  Don’t use cotton swabs in the ear. They tend to pack the earwax down more tightly.

•  Don’t push objects into the ear canal.

{Note: Use only if you know that your eardrum is not ruptured or infected. See signs of a ruptured eardrum and ear infection under "When to Seek Medical Care" on this page.}

•  Don’t try to scrape out earwax. You could put a hole in your eardrum or damage the skin of your ear canal.

•  Use an over-the-counter product, such as Murine Ear Drops, Debrox, etc. Follow package directions.

•  Hold a warm, wet washcloth on the blocked ear or, take a warm shower. Let the water gently flow into the ear. Use the tip of a warm washcloth to remove the softened wax. Don’t use cold water. This may cause dizziness.

•  Lie on your side or tilt your head sideways. Using a clean medicine dropper, carefully squeeze a few drops of lukewarm water into your ear. Leave the water there for about 10 minutes. Tilt your head to let the water drain out of the ear. After several minutes, do the same thing again. If the ear wax has not cleared in 3 hours, repeat this entire procedure. {Note: Instead of just warm water, you can use a mixture of 1 part warm water and 1 part hydrogen peroxide. Keep the drops in the ear for 3, not 10 minutes, though.}

•  Rest a hot water bottle on the affected ear for a few minutes. Afterward, use a washcloth to remove the softened wax.

Image of hot water bottle.

Use a hot water bottle to help soften ear wax.

Contact Doctor When:

•  You have sudden or total hearing loss in one or both ears.

•  Earwax has not cleared after using self-care for several days.

•  You have signs of a ruptured eardrum:

– Ear pain

– Blood or other ear discharge

– Partial hearing loss

– Ringing or burning in the ear

•  You have ear pain with any of these signs of an ear infection:

– Feeling of fullness in the ear that leads to ear pain

– Fever of 101°F or higher

– Blood, pus, or fluid from the ear

– Temporary hearing loss

– Redness and swelling of the skin of the ear canal

– Nausea, vomiting, and/or dizziness

Image of doctor checking patients ear.

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