Earwax, that sticky, yellow substance you swipe out of your ears now and then, protects your ears from dust, dirt, and debris. These foreign particles stick to the wax, and the gooey material ushers them back out before they make their way into your inner ear. Earwax also keeps water from freely flowing into your ears.
Most earwax comes out naturally without your notice, and occasionally it requires the help of a tissue. But how do you know when earwax is causing problems?
Here, Dr. Joseph Goin at Calvary Urgent Care in Humble, Texas, explains what happens when excess earwax builds up, and what you can do about it.
Why ear wax builds up
Your earwax is as unique as your skin tone, hair color, and body type. While everyone’s ear glands generate earwax, the color, consistency, and amount vary from person to person.
If you produce more earwax than you can clear out, you may experience excess buildup.
If your ears are small or misshapen, it may be difficult for earwax to exit the canal, so it may build up inside.
If you use cotton swabs to clean your ears, you may be removing some of your earwax but pushing some deeper into the canal, causing buildup. This is called impaction.
If you use earplugs on the job or you wear hearing aids or earphones, you may get more earwax buildup than those who don’t.
Signs you have earwax buildup
Minor earwax buildup can go unnoticed for a while, but eventually you start feeling the symptoms, which can include:
- Diminished hearing
- Plugged ears
- Ear ringing
- Ear discomfort
You may be able to take care of minor earwax buildup at home by placing a few drops of mineral oil, hydrogen peroxide, or baby oil into your ear canal to soften the wax and coax it out. There are also earwax-softening products you can buy.
A little warm water in a bulb syringe can gently flush excess earwax, as well.
When to see a doctor about earwax buildup
If at-home remedies don’t help, you may need to see Dr. Goin. We recommend making an appointment if you experience:
- Severe pain and/or itching
- Sudden or persistent hearing loss
These are signs your earwax has begun to cause problems in your inner ear. You may have a perforated eardrum or a middle-ear infection. These may also be signs of other serious health conditions, so it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis.
Dr. Goin uses an otoscope to look inside your ear, assess the situation, and determine the best treatment. He may remove the earwax with a spoon-like instrument called a curette, irrigate it with a prescription-strength solution, or suction it out. This is one of the many minor office procedures we perform here at Calvary Urgent Care.
The best way to prevent earwax buildup and its complications is to avoid using cotton swabs to clean your ears — the number one cause of earwax impaction.
If you suspect you have earwax buildup and need some assistance clearing your canals, schedule an appointment with Dr. Goin by calling us at 832-680-2273, emailing our office, or just walk into Calvary Urgent Care Monday through Saturday, 9am-9pm.