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.
Symptoms of a cerumen blockage include:
- Tinnitus (noise in the ear)
- Hearing loss
- Ear pressure
If a blockage occurs, it may need to be removed.
Removal at Your Audiologist's Office
If the earwax blockage is more significant, it may need to be removed professionally. Dr. Sommerville typically uses one of three methods to remove earwax: curettage, microsuction, or irrigation.
The most common method is curettage, which involves the use of a curette. A curette is a long, curved tool that is used to gently roll cerumen from the ear canal, removing the blockage.
Microsuction is performed using the magnification and light of the otoscope and a medical suction to remove the wax.
Irrigation can also be used to remove blockages if the prior two methods were unsuccessful.
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.
At-Home Earwax Removal
In some instances, patients will use an at-home earwax removal kit. Earwax removal kits can also be purchased over the counter in most drug stores.
These kits generally consist of a liquid that softens earwax and a small rubber bulb syringe. There are directions on how much and how often to apply the liquid to your ear canals, allowing it to sit for awhile in your ears to soften up the earwax. Bubbling and fizzing sensations in your ears are normal with use. You will then use the bulb syringe to gently flush your ears with warm water to remove the earwax. It may take several days to completely clear earwax blockages from your ear. There are contraindications to using these kits in some people and with some ear conditions. Before attempting at-home earwax removal, it is advised to speak with your audiologist or primary care doctor to be sure it is safe for you.
How Not to Remove Earwax Buildup
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 potentially damage your ear, including the possibility of rupturing your eardrum.
Audiologists and 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.