Earwax is produced by glands in the ear canal. Although scientists are still not completely sure why we have earwax, it does trap dust and other small particles and prevent them from reaching, and potentially damaging or infecting the eardrum. Normally, the wax dries up and falls out of the ear, along with any trapped dust or debris. Everyone makes ear wax, but the amount and type are genetically determined just like hair color or height. Smaller or oddly shaped ear canals may make it difficult for the naturally occurring wax to get out of the canal and lead to wax impaction.
Blockage, or impaction, also occurs when the wax gets pushed deep within the ear canal. Earwax blockage is one of the most common ear problems doctors see.
- The most common cause of impaction is the use of Q-tips (and other objects such as bobby pins), which can remove superficial wax but also pushes the rest of the wax deeper into the ear canal.
- Hearing aid and earplug users are also more prone to earwax blockage.
Symptoms of an earwax impaction include:
- Decreased hearing
- Ear pain
- Plugged or sensation
- Itching or drainage from the ear canal
When to Seek Medical Care
See your doctor if you think you may have any symptoms of an impaction. Other conditions may cause these symptoms and it is important to be sure wax is the culprit before trying any home remedies.
Go to the hospital if:
- You have a severe spinning sensation, loss of balance, or inability to walk
- You have persistent vomiting or high fever
- You experience sudden loss of hearing
Exams and Tests
Our Board Certified Hearing Specialist at Schmidt’s Optical and Hearing™ or your doctor can determine if you have earwax blockage (or eardrum perforation) by listening to your symptoms and then doing a visual inspection of your ears with an otoscope. Your medical doctor may remove your wax with a small plastic spoon called a curette, or irrigate your ear with warmed water, sodium bicarbonate, or other prescription-strength eardrops. The doctor may also use gentle suction to remove the wax. Complication of earwax blockages include:
- Perforated eardrum
- Middle ear infection
- External ear infection (swimmer’s ear)
- Permanent hearing loss from acoustic trauma
Blockage can often be prevented by avoiding the use of cotton-tipped swabs or Q-tips and other objects that push the wax deeper into the ear canal.
If you think that you might have an earwax impaction, Call Schmidt’s Optical and Hearing™ today at 772-286-4327 and schedule your FREE comprehensive hearing evaluation with our Board Certified Hearing Aid Specialist.