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, it can accumulate and cause a blockage. 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.
Symptoms of a cerumen blockage include:
- Ear pain
- Tinnitus (noise in the ear)
- Hearing loss
- Ear pressure
How NOT to Remove Cerumen
People commonly use cotton swabs to try and remove cerumen or dislodge a blockage. However, this can sometimes cause more problems, as the cotton swab may push the blockage further down into the ear canal, risking even more damage to the ear, including the possibility of rupturing the eardrum.
Physicians generally agree that cotton swabs are a bad idea for removing ceruemn and should only be used on the outer portions of your ear. The general rule is this: If it is smaller than your elbow, do not insert it into your ear canal.
At-Home Cerumen Removal
In some instances, a physican may send patients home with an at-home ear wax removal kit. These removal kits can also be purchased over the counter in most drug stores and generally consist of a liquid that softens earwax (carbamide peroxide), and a small rubber bulb syringe. Directions on how much and how often to apply the liquid to your ear canals is given by the physician and/or in the packaging. Bubbling and fizzing is normal with use. The bulb syringe is used to gently flush tepid water into the ears to remove the ear wax. There are contraindications to using these kits for some people with certain ear conditions. Before attempting at-home earwax removal, please speak with a physician to be sure it is safe.
Cerumen Removal at Your Doctor's Office
If the earwax blockage is more significant, it may need to be removed in the doctor's office. It is preferable to see an ENT in this case, as they will use a microscope with specialized removal tools and gentle suction to remove the cerumen. Using irrigation is not advised due to the risk of potential eardrum damage or rupture.