Ear wax - What is a build-up of ear wax?
BMJ Group Medical Reference
Sometimes ear wax can build up and block your ear. This can stop you hearing properly. If this happens, you'll need to have the wax removed. Usually this is easy and painless.
We've brought together the best research about ear wax build-ups and weighed up the evidence about how to treat them. You can use our information to talk to your doctor and decide which treatments are best for you.
We all make ear wax. Normally the wax moves slowly to the outside of your ear where you wash it away. But sometimes the wax builds up and blocks your ear.
Ear wax helps to stop dirt, dust, and germs getting into your ear. But sometimes the wax builds up and forms a hard layer.
This can block the tube leading into your ear (your ear canal).
This blockage is called an ear wax plug or impacted ear wax.
Sometimes the wax can cover your eardrum. Your eardrum is a thin layer of skin that stretches across the end of your ear canal. It picks up sound from outside. So an ear wax plug may stop you hearing properly. The hearing loss isn't usually serious, but it can be frustrating.
Some people are more likely to get problems with ear wax.
Wearing a hearing aid or using ear plugs stops the natural flow of ear wax and this can cause wax to build up.
People who have narrow ear canals are also more likely to get ear wax plugs.
Men and older people are more likely to get ear wax plugs.
But a build-up of ear wax has nothing to do with poor hygiene. You can't prevent a build-up of ear wax by washing or removing the wax yourself.
In fact, you can make the problem worse by trying to remove wax yourself (for example, by using cotton buds). If you try to do this you can push the ear wax further into the ear canal and make it harder to get out. You can also damage your ear canal or eardrum.
To read more, see Looking after your ears.
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