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Removing Ear Wax

Why do we produce ear wax and what's the best way to remove it?


Updated May 16, 2014

Photo of a child getting a new hearing aid

A child gets a new hearing aid

Photo: China Photos / Getty Images

When I was a child, I found the process of removing ear wax fascinating. My doctor cleaned it out regularly by suctioning. It didn't hurt, and I was fascinated by the sight of the wax coming out. 

Ear wax is normal and healthy and is thought to be one way the ear protects itself from harmful bacteria and dirt. Everyone makes ear wax, although some people make more than others. Sweat glands inside the outer ear canal produce it. The wax oils ear canal tissues and protects the ear drum. 

Cleaning Ear Wax

The healthy ear cleans itself. Tiny hairs lining the ear canal remove the wax slowly, but too much ear wax can create a blockage leading to temporary hearing loss. 

When you clean your ear, you are removing wax that has moved far from its point of origin. Do not put a finger, swab, etc. in to the ear canal. This can hurt and push the wax in deeper. You can use an over-the-counter wax softener to clean your ears at home. If you are experiencing any ear pain, dizziness, discharge, or hearing loss, consult with your physician.

Problems Associated with Deep Ear Wax

Deep wax can cause pain, fullness, noise in the ear or hearing loss. See a doctor, nurse or audiologist to determine if the ear wax is deep. If the wax is very deep, a special microscope can be used to remove it.

Impacted Ear Wax

Blocked or impacted ear wax may be due to overzealous ear cleaning, but can happen even if you don't stick anything in your ear, particularly as you age. Older ears don't clean themselves as effectively as younger ones, plus health problems or hearing aids might make it harder for your ear to remove ear wax. For example, if you are 70 and use hearing aids, you might need a doctor to help remove wax from your ears every year or two.

Safe Ear Wax Removal

Some experienced doctors use pressurized water to remove deep wax. Other options include using a wire loop vacuuming the ear with light suction to remove the wax gently. A good doctor will always view the cleaning area under a strong light. You'll want to make sure to discuss the best method of ear wax removal with your doctor.

Related on About.com: Alt Medicine: Ear Candling
On the About Deafness forum: Help for Ear Wax Buildup in Child


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