Earwax is the waxy substance naturally occurring in the human ear canal. Although visually unappealing, earwax is not inherently bad for you and some scientists believe it has health benefits: by trapping dust particles and other objects, earwax protects the sensitive eardrum from damage. Earwax becomes a problem when excesses cause blockages or impaction. This can result in trouble hearing, pain, dizziness, ringing in the ear, and drainage. Read on to learn about the causes and prevention of earwax.

What is Earwax?

Earwax is the common word for cerumen, a waxy substance that may be gray, brown, or yellow. Dead skin cells, secretions, and hair form the basis of earwax. In addition to protecting the eardrum from damage by uninvited particles, earwax cleans, lubricates, and protects against bacteria.


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What Causes Earwax?

Everyone has some amount of earwax, but quantity and consistency vary from person to person. Earwax is formed in the outer third portion of the ear canal to help protect and lubricate. Sometimes, however, the earwax is pushed further down the canal, reaching the eardrum. This results in impaction and may lead to difficulty hearing, pain, and other symptoms.


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Is earwax harmful?

In and of itself, earwax is not harmful and may be beneficial to the health of our ears. However, issues such as impaction can lead to ringing of the ears, difficulty hearing, ear pain, and dizziness. One of the leading causes of impaction is that ever-popular attempt to clean the ears with a cotton swab. This often does more damage than good, as it pushes the earwax further down the ear canal rather than removing it from the ear.

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How Can I Prevent Earwax?

You should not prevent earwax from forming altogether. Without earwax, the ear canal would be dry and itchy. However, you can take steps to prevent dangerous earwax buildup to unhealthy levels. The most important method of prevention is to avoid over-cleaning your ears. For the most part, ears are self-cleaning and do not need additional helpg. Stay away from using cotton swabs or other small instruments to clean your ears.


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How Do I Treat Earwax?

If you must clean your ears, opt for a washcloth used only on the portions of the ear that are outside the canal. You may also attempt to soften the wax and let it seep out naturally with the help of home remedies such as baby oil.


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How do I know if I have an impaction?

The symptoms of impaction include difficulty hearing, pain, tinnitus, itching, odor, or discharge.  If you experience any of these symptoms, you should safely clean your ears or seek the help of a medical professional.

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How Do I Clean My Ears?

Do not push anything into your ear canal smaller than your finger wrapped in a cloth. Wash the external ear with a clean washcloth. You may use a few drops of baby oil, mineral oil, or glycerin to soften the earwax. Once softened, the earwax should exit the ear on its own. A physician may also help by irrigating the ear with water or manually removing the earwax.


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Should I Use Ear Candles?

Ear candling is a method used by many people who claim it aids in the removal of earwax. A special, hollow candle is inserted into the ear, and the external portion is lit. The heat from the candle is thought to create a light suction that removes wax from the ear. However, ear candling may result in serious injury. People have reported burns, further impaction, and damage to the inner ear due to their use. The FDA and the National Institutes of Health strongly advise against the use of ear candles.


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Should I Consult My Doctor About Earwax?

While earwax typically regulates itself and there is no need for medical intervention, if blockage or impaction occurs, you may choose to seek help from your physician. If you are experiencing partial hearing loss or pain, you may consult your doctor. A professional will be equipped to properly diagnose the condition. In the case of impaction, your doctor may safely remove the earwax through irrigation or manual means.


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Why Should I Avoid Cotton Swabs?

One of the leading causes of blockage or impaction is the use of cotton swabs. While a person may think they are cleaning their ears, they are actually pushing the earwax further down the ear canal toward the ear drum. The ear is naturally shaped like a cone and the wax should stay in the outer third of the ear. This prohibits dust and particles from traveling down the canal where they could do serious damage. Avoid cotton swabs to avoid pushing earwax and other particles further down to the more sensitive areas of the ear. It is also possible to rupture your eardrum with a vigorous swabbing.


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