Earwax buildup or impaction happens when the self cleaning process is not working properly or when people use items like cotton swabs or bobby pins to try to clean their ears. The cleaning tool does remove some wax but it pushes most of the ear wax deeper into the ear canal where the body’s self cleaning process does not work. This manual cleaning can also cause injury to the ear canal or ear drum. Earwax buildup also commonly occurs in hearing aid or ear plug users, elderly, children, and those with irregularly shaped ear canals.
Symptoms of impaction include itchy ears, discharge, odor, difficulty hearing, muffled hearing, pain, ringing in ears, and dizziness. I have seen some people with complete obstruction of both of their ears and they had no symptoms. They did not realize how bad their hearing was until we removed the wax.
Cerumen impaction is easy to diagnose on exam by visualizing inside the ear canal. Earwax removal can by attempted at home by cleaning the outside of the ear with a wash cloth or using over the counter ear drops to soften the wax for a few days followed by warm water irrigation. Wax is commonly removed at Urgent Care with warm water irrigation or at an ENT specialist with special instrumentation or suction. If you are certain that earwax is the issue, use ear wax softening drops twice a day for at least three days before you have your ears irrigated to allow a much easier removal of the wax.
To prevent wax buildup avoid using q-tips or sticking anything inside your ear canal. You may wash your outer ear regularly. Whenever you visit a physician as them to tell you how much wax is in your ears. If significant amounts are present use the softening drops and irrigation mentioned earlier. Many primary care physicians do not remove earwax, while most Urgent Care offices do. Ear candles work by creating a vacuum in your ear canal to suck out the wax and have some safety concerns. We do not advise their use.
See our Physicians and P.A.s at Doctors Urgent Care for the highest quality medical evaluation and treatment. We are familiar with and regularly treat ear wax blockage with water irrigation. Most people fee dramatically better after the wax is removed.
David B. Dean, MD
Doctors Urgent Care