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, especially if you wear earmolds or hearing aids.
Symptoms of a cerumen blockage include:
- Tinnitus (ringing of the ears)
- Decreased hearing
- Feeling of ear fullness
If a blockage occurs, it may need to be removed. This can be done at your hearing care professional’s office, depending on the size and severity of the blockage.
Earwax removal methods to avoid
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.
Another method to avoid is ear candling. Research shows that ear candling is ineffective at removing earwax and can actually be harmful as there is a risk for burns to the ear and/or face.
Earwax removal by a professional
If the earwax blockage is more significant, it may need to be removed at your hearing care professional’s office. Hearing specialists typically use one of two methods to remove earwax: irrigation or curettage.
Irrigation is the most common method your hearing specialist will use to remove blockages. Unlike at-home earwax removal kits, your hearing professional may use stronger earwax removal medications in conjunction with irrigation. Carbamide peroxide is typically the main ingredient in these medications.
The less common method is curettage, which involves the use of a curette. A curette is a long, curved tool that may also be used with suction to remove cerumen from the ear canal.
If you experience pain or discomfort as a result of earwax or suspect you have a blockage, it's important that you see your hearing health professional as soon as possible to address the issue. Removing earwax doesn't have to be painful and should bring you relief.