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, especially if you wear earmolds or hearing aids.
Symptoms of a cerumen blockage include:
- Tinnitus (ringing of the ears)
- Decreased hearing
- Feeling of ear fullness
If a blockage occurs, it may need to be removed. This can be done at home or at your audiologist’s office, depending on the size and severity of the blockage.
Earwax removal methods to avoid
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 compact wax further or puncture your eardrum.
Physicians 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.
Removal at your hearing provider’s office
If the earwax blockage is significant, it may need to be removed at your audiologist’s office. Hearing specialists typically use one of three methods to remove earwax depending on the severity: irrigation, curettage and suction.
Irrigation is one method your hearing specialist may use to remove blockages. Unlike at-home earwax removal kits, your audiologist may use stronger earwax removal medications in conjunction with irrigation. Carbamide peroxide is typically the main ingredient in these medications.
The curettage method involves the use of a curette. A curette is a long, curved tool that may also be used with suction to remove cerumen from the ear canal.
If you experience pain or discomfort 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.