Ears produce wax, also called cerumen, as a natural and healthy process to lubricate and protect the ear canal. It is produced by the ceruminous glands in the outer auditory canal.
Excessive production of wax results in ear blockage. It can lead to temporary hearing problems, pain, or the likelihood of infection.
Partial or complete ear blockage can be the result of the following causes:
Accumulation of cerumen in the auditory canal
Ear infections such as middle or swimmer ear infections; otitis media or otitis externa
Foreign objects like cotton swabs may push wax deeper into the ear canal
Dysfunction of ear tubes, particularly Eustachian tubes, which connect the middle ear to the throat
Fluid buildup in the middle ear due to infections or allergies
Certain structural issues with the ear canals or abnormal growths
Injuries to the ear, such as a blow to the head or a punctured eardrum
If you experience persistent or severe signs of ear blockage, consult an ear specialist for proper evaluation and necessary care or treatment.
The signs and symptoms of clogged ears depend on the underlying cause. Some common indications include:
Ringing or buzzing sounds in the ear without any external sound source
Dizziness and struggle to maintain balance
Itching or irritation in the auditory canal
Altered hearing and sensation of taste
Fluid drainage from the infected ear
Reduced or muffled hearing
Ear pain or discomfort
It is essential to understand that these signs or symptoms may indicate other conditions as well. Therefore, if you’re experiencing persistent symptoms, seek medical attention at your earliest convenience and obtain a proper diagnosis.
You can clean painful wax from the ears in the following ways:
Soften the wax: Use an over-the-counter wax softening solution, mineral oil, or warm water to soften the wax in your ears. Follow the instructions on the product packaging or gently rinse your ears with warm water.
Irrigation with water: Fill a bulb syringe with lukewarm water or saline solution (available at pharmacies) and gently squirt it into your ear canal. Tilt your head to allow the water to flow out along with the softened wax. Avoid applying too much pressure to prevent damage.
Ear drops: If recommended by a healthcare professional, you can use specific ear drops designed to dissolve earwax. Follow the instructions provided and use the drops as directed.
Washcloth or towel: Carefully wipe the outer part of your ear with a washcloth or towel to remove any excess wax that might have come out during the cleaning process.
Additionally, patients are encouraged to consult an otolaryngologist if they experience acute pain or are uncertain about cleaning clogged ear canals.
Cleaning painful wax from the ears can sometimes have adverse effects such as:
If the cleaning process is not gentle or there is an underlying ear condition, it may increase discomfort or pain
Excessive cleaning may irritate the delicate ear canal, leading to redness, itching, or swelling
Improper cleaning techniques and tools may damage the eardrum or ear canal. This results in bleeding or perforation of the eardrum.
Attempts to remove cerumen may push it deeper into the ear canal, worsening symptoms. This requires medical attention to restore normal ear function.
Sometimes the cleaning process also helps bacteria enter the auditory canal, leading to ear infections.
Wax buildup can be prevented by following these practices:
Use earplugs while swimming or engaging in relevant exercises and sports to prevent water from entering the ears
Employ properly fitting earplugs as improper fitting pushes wax deeper into the canal
Avoid inserting cotton swabs or other objects into the ear canal
Gently clean the outer part of your ears with a washcloth
Don’t remove earwax completely