Our bodies are naturally equipped with many fascinating defensive mechanisms. One of these protective barriers takes the form of a waxy oil lining our ears. Earwax, referred to in the medical profession as cerumen, is created by the glands in the outer ear canal. As a part of our body’s natural defense system, it plays a critical role in protecting the health of our ears. Earwax works to trap dust, bacteria and other foreign objects. Over time, earwax typically dries up, works its way to the outer ear and falls out unnoticed. Under ideal circumstances, this creates an effective self-cleaning system and offers protection for the inner ear.
When produced in healthy amounts, earwax is harmless and will often go unnoticed. However, an absence of earwax can often cause dryness and itching—symptoms your health provider can help you manage. Other problems arise when too much earwax is produced or if the earwax is not able to naturally exit the canal. Both of these factors can contribute to a blockage. Symptoms of impacted earwax include:
- ear pain
- decrease in your ability to hear
Because these symptoms may indicate a more serious condition, we recommend scheduling an appointment with your provider as soon as possible. Your doctor will be able to properly determine the cause of your symptoms. If you are diagnosed with a blockage, your audiologist will irrigate your canals to remove the buildup.
Impacted earwax most commonly occurs in well-intentioned individuals using cotton-tipped applicators or other objects to clean their ears. However, probing the ear to remove wax from the canals often results in earwax being pushed deeper into the ear canal.
If you struggle with excessive wax buildup or are concerned about the risk of impacted earwax, there are precautions you can take. The most important preventive measure we recommend is to keep your ears clear of foreign objects and avoid cleaning your canals. If necessary, you may use a dry cloth to wipe down your outer ear, but when left alone, your ears should clean themselves naturally. Using over-the-counter ear softeners may prevent the build up of earwax in your canals. A regular irrigation appointment with your audiologist will also ensure your ear canals stay clear and healthy.