Earwax and Your Hearing

In Hearing Aids, Hearing Health, Hearing Loss, Hearing Testing by Lonnie Barkby, HIS

Lonnie Barkby, HIS

Excessive and impacted earwax is one of the most common culprits of temporary hearing loss.  It also prevents our providers from providing a thorough and accurate hearing evaluation. So what is ear wax and how can you prevent it from affecting your hearing?

What is Ear Wax?

Earwax (cerumen) is produced by the body to attract dirt, dust and debris  in the ear canal with its sticky, greasy composition.  It serves as both a lubricant and an antibacterial device. Ear canal skin grows from the inside of your ear out.  So as new skin grows, old skin moves outward and is shed naturally. The wax is shed along with the skin.  The body naturally works out the old earwax by movements of the jaw when we speak or eat through muscle and bone movements.  Essentially, it helps the inner ear “self clean” itself by slowly being produced and expelling the unwanted debris as needed.

When There Is Too Much

Most people don’t have a problem with earwax buildup. However, certain people are more susceptible to earwax buildup, including:

  • Those who wear hearing aids or use ear plugs
  • Those who use cotton swabs or other items in their ear
  • Those with ear canal deformities that prevent natural wax removal

When this excessive wax is not removed properly and consistently, it builds up and blocks the ear canal.  This blockage or impaction can greatly reduce a person’s ability to hear.

If you have any of the following symptoms, you may have a problem with impacted earwax.

  • Pain in the ear
  • Difficulty hearing
  • Feeling of fullness or itchiness in the ear
  • Odor or discharge from the ear
  • Ringing in the ear (tinnitus)
  • Dizziness

If you regularly clean the inside of your ears, earwax should not build up or become impacted. But for those adults with excessive earwax, using ear wax removal kits periodically may help lessen the problem and keep the ear canal clear. Sterile saline solution may also soften impacted wax.  Inserting fingers or implements into the ear canal to remove earwax is never advised and can cause unintentional damage.

If you do have impacted earwax or a buildup of earwax, call your primary care physician, ENT, or many Urgent Care facilities are able to remove it for you.  The removal procedure takes minutes in the hands of skilled professional, is painless and you should experience immediate relief.