Earwax blockage occurs when earwax (cerumen) accumulates in the ear or becomes too hard to wash away.
Earwax is a normal and helpful part of the body’s defense system. It cleans, lubricates and protects the ear canal by trapping dirt and slowing the growth of bacteria.
If earwax blockage causes problems, a doctor may attempt simple steps to remove it safely.
Symptoms of earwax blockage may include:
- Feeling of fullness in the affected ear
- Ringing or noises in the ear (tinnitus)
- Decreased hearing in the affected ear
The signs and symptoms of earwax blockage may indicate another condition because there is no way to be certain there is excessive earwax without a doctor checking the ears. Signs and symptoms such as earache or decreased hearing may be indications of another medical condition that involves the ears rather than wax buildup.
Wax removal is most safely done by a doctor because the ear canal and eardrum are delicate and may be damaged easily by excess earwax. It may be unsafe to remove earwax at home or with a device placed in the ear canal, especially after ear surgery or if there is a hole (perforation) in the eardrum or if there is ear pain or drainage.
Children usually have their ears checked as part of any medical examination. A doctor can remove excess earwax from a child’s ear if necessary.
Glands in the skin that line the outer half of the ear canals secrete the wax in the ears. The wax and tiny hairs in the passages trap dust, dirt and other foreign particles that may damage deeper structures such as the eardrum.
In most people, a small amount of earwax regularly travels to the opening of the ear where it is washed away or falls out as new wax is secreted to replace it. Secretion of an excessive amount of wax or if the earwax is not cleared properly, it may build up and block the ear canal causing some of the typical symptoms.
Earwax blockages most commonly occur when people attempt to clean their ears on their own by placing cotton swabs or other items in their ears. This process often pushes wax deeper into the ear rather than removing it.