Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Earwax: Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Earwax does an important job cleaning, lubricating and protecting the ear.

Earwax repels water and traps dirt. It is produced by glands in the ear canal.

Earwax usually dries up on its own and falls out of the ear, taking dirt with it.

However, if the ear makes too much wax, it can block the ear causing pain and a temporary loss of hearing.

Earwax causes

Blockage, or impaction, occurs when the wax gets pushed deep within the ear canal. Earwax blockage affects many people and is the most common ear problem doctors see.

  • The most common cause of this is the use of cotton buds (and other objects such as hair pins and rolled napkin corners), which push the wax deeper into the ear canal.
  • Hearing aid and earplug users are also more prone to earwax blockage.

Earwax symptoms

  • Impaired hearing
  • Dizziness
  • Ear pain
  • Plugged or fullness sensation
  • Ringing in the ear

When to seek medical care

If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, or notice drainage from the ear, seek medical advice.

Examinations and tests

A doctor can diagnose earwax blockage (or eardrum perforation) by listening to your symptoms and then looking into your ear with an otoscope.

Earwax treatment self-care at home

Earwax removal methods can be tried at home unless you have a perforation (hole) or tubes (grommets) in your eardrum.

Over-the-counter wax softening drops or warmed olive oil may be put into the affected ear and then allowed to drain out after about five minutes.

Medical treatment for earwax

The doctor may remove the earwax with a small plastic spoon called a curette, or by irrigating the ear with warmed water, saline, docusate, sodium bicarbonate, or prescription-strength eardrops.

You may be referred to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist if the ear wax is unable to be removed by these methods and they may use suction to remove the wax while looking into the ear with a microscope.

Earwax prevention

Earwax blockage can be prevented by avoiding the use of cotton buds and other objects that push the wax deeper into the ear canal.

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on November 27, 2015

Stay informed

Sign up for BootsWebMD's free newsletters.
Sign Up Now!

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

man holding back
Myths & facts about back pain
hands grabbing knee
How to keep your joints healthy
bowl of soup
Small changes that lead to weight loss
cute baby
Simple tips to keep baby's skin healthy
cute dog
10 common allergy triggers
Do you know what causes hair loss?
woman exercising
Exercises for low back pain
sperm and egg
Facts to help you get pregnant
bucket with cleaning supplies in it
Cleaning for a healthy home
rash on skin
Soothe skin and prevent flare-ups
mother and child
Could your baby be allergic to milk?
pregnant woman eating healthy salad
Nutrition needs before pregnancy