Earwax, known medically as cerumen, is a naturally occurring substance that lubricates and protects the ear canal by trapping debris and bacteria. While natural jaw movements during talking and chewing help earwax work its way out, sometimes it can become impacted. Below is a guide for safely removing impacted earwax.
When to Remove Earwax
Earwax does not need to be removed unless it is impacted. Impacted earwax causes symptoms such as:
- Fullness in the ears
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Impaired hearing
- Cough (occasionally)
You are at increased risk of impacted earwax if you regularly wear hearing aids, earplugs or earbuds.
What Not to Do
Small objects like cotton swabs, bobby pins and pens should never be inserted into the ear canal. Not only are they likely to push earwax deeper into the ear, they put you at risk of a ruptured eardrum. The rule of thumb is you should not insert anything into your ear smaller than your finger.
Ear candling is a practice that claims to draw impurities out of the ears by inserting cone-shaped candles into the ears and lighting them. This should also be avoided, as no studies have shown that it is effective, and it puts you at risk of being burnt by the flame or hot wax.
What to Do
There are a few strategies that are safe to try at home if you are suffering from impacted earwax.
If you have visible earwax in the ear canal that is uncomfortable or unsightly, you can wipe the area with a warm (not hot), damp washcloth. Do not use any objects aside from your finger to insert the cloth into the ear canal.
Over-the-counter eardrops are available to soften wax so that it can work its way out more easily. You can also use:
- Mineral oil
- Baby oil
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Saline solution
No matter which option you use, place just one or two drops into the ear, wait one to two minutes, and then drain or rinse your ear. If you use OTC drops, follow the directions on the package.
Using a bulb syringe, gently rinse out each ear with steady pressure. Use lukewarm water or saline solution – do not use hot or cold water, as this may make you dizzy. This strategy works best if you use an earwax softener 15-30 minutes beforehand. Hold a towel or bowl under the ear being irrigated to prevent water from getting everywhere.
Do not irrigate your ears if…
- You have diabetes.
- You have a compromised immune system.
- You suspect you have a hole in the eardrum.
- You have tubes in your ears.
When to Seek Help
If none of the above methods provide relief from impacted earwax, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Call the experts at the Hearing & Balance Center at Charleston ENT today.