Cerumen, also known as ear wax, 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, it can accumulate and cause a blockage. In these cases, cerumen removal may be necessary.
Symptoms of a Cerumen Blockage:
- Tinnitus (noise in the ear)
- Hearing loss
- Ear pressure
If a blockage occurs, it may need to be removed. This can be done at home or at your doctor’s office, depending on the size and severity of the blockage.
How Not to Remove Ear Wax Buildup
People commonly use cotton swabs to try and remove ear wax or dislodge a blockage. However, this can sometimes cause more problems, as cotton swabs can push a blockage further down into the ear canal, risking even more damage to the ear. In addition, cotton swabs themselves can be accidentally inserted too far into the ear canal and can potentially damage your ear. They can even rupture your ear drum.
Physicians generally agree that cotton swabs are a bad idea for removing ear wax 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.
At-Home Cerumen Removal
In some instances, your physician may send you home with an at-home cerumen removal kit. These kits can also be purchased over the counter in most drug stores.
The kits generally consist of a liquid that softens ear wax and a small rubber bulb syringe. You will be given directions on how much and how often to apply the liquid to your ear canals, allowing it to sit for a while in your ears to soften up the ear wax. 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 ear wax. It may take several days to completely clear the blockage from your ear. There are contraindications to using these kits in some people and with some ear conditions. Before attempting at-home cerumen removal, please speak with your doctor to be sure it is safe for you.
Cerumen Removal at Your Doctor’s Office
If your ear wax blockage is more significant, it may need to be removed in your doctor’s office. Doctors typically use one of two methods to remove ear wax: irrigation or curettage.
Irrigation is the most common method your doctor will use to remove blockages. Unlike at-home cerumen removal kits, your doctor may use stronger cerumen removal medications in conjunction with irrigation. Carbamide peroxide is typically the main ingredient in these medications.
Curettage, the less common method, involves the use of a curette. A curette is a long, curved tool that is used along with suction to gently scrape cerumen from the ear canal, removing the blockage.
If you experience pain or discomfort as a result of ear wax or suspect you have a blockage, it is important that you see your doctor as soon as possible to address the issue. Removing ear wax doesn’t have to be painful and should bring you relief.