Medically known as cerumen, earwax is a sticky substance produced by the glands in our ear canal. Although mostly made up of dead skin cells, earwax also consists of soluble water secretions such as alcohols, cholesterol, squalene, fatty acids, antibacterial enzymes, and lysozyme. While you may have never given a second thought to earwax, it’s actually one of your body’s most important and creative protective mechanisms.
Earwax is released constantly to prevent dirt from entering the inner parts of the ear. It also prevents the growth of bacteria and protects the skin on your auditory canal from being irritated by water. Additionally, earwax cleans and lubricates the inner lining of the ear. So, without earwax, your ear can easily become dirt infested, infected, waterlogged, dry, and sore.
Earwax usually doesn’t cause problems for as long as it’s produced in sufficient amounts. However, several issues can occur when it becomes too much and accumulates in the ears.
For instance, too much wax will decrease your hearing. It can also lead to itchiness, pain, or a constant ringing sound in the ears known as Titinus. Therefore, excessive wax in the ears is something that you shouldn’t just brush aside. While excessive ear wax may be irritating, the good news is that there are many home remedies to get rid of ear wax. This article offers useful information on earwax blockage plus some of the most effective treatments you can try at home.
Know the Causes
The ear has a nice system in place that helps to prevent a buildup of wax. It does this by eliminating old secretions and thus creating room for newly produced wax. Old earwax automatically moves out of the ear canal and makes its way to the opening of your ear. Once it reaches the ear opening, normal jaw movements such as talking, yawning, and chewing will help this wax to fall off naturally. Any leftover excess wax that doesn’t fall off is washed away when you have a bath.
While this wax production and removal process is enough to ensure wax never builds up, blockage can occur if your ear secretes excessive amounts of wax or if the secreted cerumen is not effectively removed. Over secretion or improper removal of wax can be caused by a number of factors. These include:
- Manual Removal of Earwax
The act of trying to clean ears or remove wax by using cotton swabs or other items is the leading cause of wax blockage. While you may manage to get some cerumen off, this act often results in you pushing the wax deeper into the auditory canal. Once earwax enters the deeper parts of the ear canal, removing it becomes difficult and eventually results in wax blockage if prodding of the ear is continued.
- Fatty Acid Deficiency
Another cause of excess wax buildup is a deficiency of essential fatty acid in the body. Individuals with this problem can simply supplement their diet with high quality omega 3 fatty acids to prevent future wax build up.
- Use Of Earphones, Earplugs, Or Hearing Aids
People who spend a great deal of their time with earphones, hearing aids, or earplugs stuck in their ears stand a huge risk of suffering from wax blockage. Such items cover the opening of the ear, and this interferes with the natural flow of wax.
Aside from these 3 causes, certain physical traits can make you more susceptible to wax blockage. For instance, your chances of suffering from wax blockage are increased if you have:
- Plenty of hair in your ear
- Hard wax
- Narrow ear canals
- Bony growths in the outer part of your ear canal
- A history of repeated ear infections
- Canal glands that continuously secrete excessive wax
Indentify the Symptoms
The main symptom of earwax blockage is decreased hearing in the affected ear. This symptom is caused as a result of piled up wax hardening and forming a blockage called “plug” which blocks out the entire inner ear area including the eardrum. Like all wax blockage symptoms, the loss of hearing is temporary and will be reversed once the excess wax is removed.
Other symptoms include:
- Ear pain
- Ringing, buzzing, or other weird sounds in the ear (tinnitus)
- A sensation of fullness in the affected ear
- Coughing in rare cases which is caused by the stimulation of a nerve in the ear
- Discharge or odor coming from the ear
Effective Home Remedies to Get Rid of Ear Wax
If left untreated, the symptoms of wax blockage can worsen and lead to possible irreversible damage. This is the reason why you should get rid of the excess wax the minute you experience any of the mentioned symptoms. Fortunately, there are also several home remedies you can use to soften and remove excess cerumen without causing further damage. Some of the best natural remedies are listed below.
- Salty water
Inexpensive and easy to get ahold of, salt water is one of the best earwax removal solutions that you can use at home. Salted water softens accumulated wax, making it easy for you to remove it without pushing it deeper into the ear.
To make use of this home remedy:
- Prepare a mixture of ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ cup warm water.
- When all of the salt has completely dissolved, tilt the affected ear upward and place 2 to 3 drops of the saline water.
- You can use a dropper to apply the solution or soak a cotton ball in the water and squeeze a few drops into the ear.
- Keep your head tilted for 3 to 5 minutes to allow the salty water to soften the earwax.
- Next, tilt your head in the opposite direction and allow the saline solution to drain out.
- Finally, use a clean dry cloth or cotton swab to clean your ear and remove the softened wax.
- Baking Soda
A water-based solution that contains baking soda makes a great alternative to the saline solution. Much like salty water, a baking soda/water solution softens the accumulated wax inside your ears, making it easy for you to get rid of it.
Here’s how to use baking soda to get rid of ear wax:
- Combine 2 teaspoons of water and ¼ teaspoon baking soda in a cup. This mixture will be enough since you’ll only need to apply a few drops of the solution into your ear.
- Once the solution is ready, tilt your head to one side and pour in the solution using a dropper or cotton ball.
- Maintain the tilted position of the head for at least 10 minutes before gently adding warm water to the ear.
- Drain out the baking soda/water solution and softened cerumen by tilting your head in the opposite direction.
- Finally, clean out the wax using a soft cloth.
- Hydrogen Peroxide
Another effective home remedy to deal with wax blockage is hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen Peroxide features an effervescent property that enables it to liquefy hardened wax, making it easy for you to clear it out. Hydrogen peroxide, however, can be harmful when applied to an ear that has had surgery in the past or one with a hole in the eardrum. So, avoid using this home remedy if you fall under any of these 2 categories. In addition, a high concentration of hydrogen peroxide can be harmful to the ear. Therefore, make sure that the hydrogen peroxide you use is not above 3.5%.
While most pharmaceutical grade peroxide bottles you can find at a drugstore will not go beyond 3% concentration, always check the label to be on the safe side.
- Vinegar and Alcohol Solution
A mixture of equal parts white vinegar and rubbing alcohol is the best way to go if you’re looking for an easy and mess-free way of treating a wax-clogged ear. Unlike other home remedies that soften the wax, a mixture of alcohol and vinegar dissolves the cerumen. As a result, the earwax simply flows out of the ear with the solution after you’ve allowed a few drops to settle in the affected ear for several minutes.
In addition, a vinegar and alcohol solution throws in the extra benefit of fighting fungi and bacteria and therefore ensures that your ear will not become infected while you’re removing excessive earwax.
Oil options such as olive, almond, baby, and mineral oil are great at removing hardened wax. These oils facilitate the removal of wax in a simple yet effective way that doesn’t require you to prepare solutions.
To get rid of ear wax with oil:
- Add the oil of your choice directly into the affected ear by inserting a cotton ball into the ear opening to prevent the oil from flowing out before softening the hardened cerumen.
- Next, allow the oil to settle for several minutes before removing the cotton ball and tilting your head to drain out the oil.
- When all the oil is out, wash off the oily and waxy residue with soap and before drying your ear gently with a Q-tip.
Do note that Glycerin can be used as an alternative to oil because it works in a similar fashion.
- Warm Plain Water
Another simple way of getting rid of wax accumulation is flushing your ear with warm water. To do so:
- Fill a rubber-bulb syringe with warm, filtered water and pour a small amount into your ear.
- Lie down on your side so that your head is propped up slightly. You’re going to pour the warm water into the ear canal until it fills up.
This method is highly effective thanks to the syringe, which helps to add water directly to the hearing canal with a gentle force that dislodges the wax. Due to the force of water and direct delivery to the ear canal, you’ll only have to leave the water in for a few seconds or a minute before removing the water and wax that comes out with a clean cloth.
If you’re unable to clear the wax after using the above home remedies, chances are your wax blockage requires treatment that’s more potent. If that is the case, you should seek medical attention.
Your doctor will first conduct tests to rule out other ear conditions with similar symptoms as wax blockage. Once it’s confirmed that you’re indeed suffering from wax buildup and not some other condition, your doctor will then administer one of the following treatment options:
- Ear Drops
If your earwax buildup is a recurring issue, your doctor may recommend that you use wax-removal medication in the form of eardrops. Just like the above-mentioned home remedies, eardrops work by softening and loosening hardened earwax. The softened wax then falls out naturally bit-by-bit over a period of time.
Eardrops also offer the added advantage of helping to relieve chronic wax buildup when used regularly as per the doctor’s instructions.
- Ear Irrigation
Doctors usually recommend ear irrigation when wax blockage persists even after using eardrops. Ear irrigation is a painless procedure that involves delivering a pressurized flow of water to the affected ear using an electrical ear irrigator or a syringe.
During the procedure, the doctor squirts a controlled flow of water into your ear while holding the ear at different angles to ensure the water reaches your entire auditory canal. The pressure of the water helps to dislodge the wax, which the doctor in turn cleans out.
When ear irrigation fails to effectively remove all of the accumulated wax, your doctor may opt for a more effective procedure known as Microsuction. The procedure is safe, painless, quick, and involves the direct removal of earwax using a specialized suction device. The device applies a gentle level of suction under a microscope.
- Aurial Toilet
This is another option that a doctor can use to remove earwax when ear irrigation proves to be ineffective. With this option, a doctor uses a thin metal instrument with a ring at one end to remove earwax without putting any form of liquid into the ear. Known as a Jobson Horne Probe, this instrument removes wax from the ear canal under direct vision unlike the suction device, which requires a microscope.
Ear Wax Removal Kits
If you’re one of those individuals who suffer from recurring wax blockage, investing in over-the-counter wax removal kits would be a good idea. Effective at flushing out earwax, these kits come in a variety of options such as the Squip Kyrosol Earwax Removal Kit, Debrox Earwax Removal Kit, and Macks ProRinse Wax Removal System.
Using these kits will not be a problem as their packaging comes with clear usage instructions. However, make sure to consult your doctor before buying an earwax removal kit especially if you’re buying the kit for a young child. Your doctor will be able to determine if the kit is ideal as well as give advice about the number of times to use it.
Things Not To Do
When it comes to wax removal, knowing what not to do is equally as important as knowing what to do. This is because there are some actions that can work to worsen the situation and cause serious damage. One such action is using cotton swabs, Q-tips, or any other object to try and remove the wax from the ear.
- Manual Removal
As mentioned earlier, trying to manually remove wax from your ears will most likely result in you pushing the cerumen further down into the hearing canal, thus creating or worsening an ear blockage. Aside from that, prodding the ear with an external object can easily result in you rupturing your eardrum since the tissue in the ear canal is very delicate. So, never use cotton swabs and other objects to go deep into your ear. Instead, let the earwax fall off naturally.
- Ear Candling
Another thing to avoid when dealing with wax removal is ear candling. Candling is usually marketed as a treatment for earwax buildup and it involves the insertion of a candle into the ear canal. The coned shaped candle is also usually hollow and lit on the extreme end that doesn’t touch your ear.
The theory behind this technique is that the candle’s flame creates heat and suction that draws out accumulated wax and other debris from the ear canal. The truth, however, is that ear candling is not only ineffective but also potentially dangerous. Some of the health problems it can cause include:
Perforation of the eardrum
- Deposits of wax into the ear canal
- Accidental burns to the face, hair, scalp, or inner parts of the ear
Therefore, ear candling should be avoided at all costs due to the ineffectiveness of the technique and the dangers it poses.
- Using Force
Finally, avoid using force when adding eardrops, home remedy solutions, or other wax removal liquids into the ear. Due to the delicate nature of the auditory canal, thrusting liquids into the ear can result in infection or worse, rupture of the tympanic membrane. So, to be on the safe side, use a gentle force or only add liquids into your ear one drop at a time.
With the information offered here, not only will you be able to determine if you’re suffering from wax blockage, but also have the knowledge you need to deal with the situation effectively.
That being said, do keep in mind that earwax blockages vary from one individual to the next. Some blockages can be easily treated with home remedy solutions while others require specialized treatment. So, only use home remedies if you’re suffering from mild wax blockage and seek specialized treatment when your symptoms are severe of if you suspect that your eardrums are torn or perforated.
In addition, always seek medical advice from your doctor or pharmacist before buying over-the-counter products for wax removal. By taking these precautionary measures, you’ll be able to avoid using ear removal solutions or products that will cause your earwax blockage to worsen.