Your doctor can determine whether you have earwax blockage by looking in your ear with a special instrument that lights and magnifies your inner ear (otoscope).
Your doctor can remove excess wax using a small, curved instrument called a curet or by using suction while inspecting the ear. Your doctor can also flush out the wax using a water pick or a rubber-bulb syringe filled with warm water.
If earwax buildup is a recurring problem, your doctor may recommend that you use a wax-removal medication, such as carbamide peroxide (Debrox Earwax Removal Kit, Murine Ear Wax Removal System). Because these drops can irritate the delicate skin of the eardrum and ear canal, use them only as directed.
Some people use ear candling, a technique that involves placing a lighted, hollow, cone-shaped candle into the ear, to try to remove earwax. The theory is that the heat from the flame will create a vacuum seal and the earwax will adhere to the candle.
However, ear candling is not a recommended treatment for earwax blockage. Research has found that ear candling doesn't work, and it may result in injury, such as burns, ear canal obstructions and even perforations.
Talk to your doctor before trying any alternative remedies for removing earwax.
Lifestyle and home remedies
If your eardrum doesn't contain a tube or have a hole in it, these self-care measures may help you remove excess earwax that's blocking your ear canal:
- Soften the wax. Use an eyedropper to apply a few drops of baby oil, mineral oil, glycerin or hydrogen peroxide in your ear canal.
- Use warm water. After a day or two, when the wax is softened, use a rubber-bulb syringe to gently squirt warm water into your ear canal. Tilt your head and pull your outer ear up and back to straighten your ear canal. When finished irrigating, tip your head to the side to let the water drain out.
- Dry your ear canal. When finished, gently dry your outer ear with a towel or hand-held dryer.
You may need to repeat this wax-softening and irrigation procedure a few times before the excess earwax falls out. However, the softening agents may only loosen the outer layer of the wax and cause it to lodge deeper in the ear canal or against the eardrum. If your symptoms don't improve after a few treatments, see your doctor.
Earwax removal kits available in stores also can be effective at removing wax buildup. Ask your doctor for advice on how to properly select and use alternative earwax removal methods.
Don't try to dig it out
Never attempt to dig out excessive or hardened earwax with available items, such as a paper clip, a cotton swab or a hairpin. You may push the wax farther into your ear and cause serious damage to the lining of your ear canal or eardrum.
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. In some rare cases, however, you may be referred to a specialist in ear disorders (ear, nose and throat specialist).
As you prepare for your appointment, it's a good idea to write a list of questions. Your doctor may have questions for you as well. He or she may ask:
- How long have you been experiencing symptoms, such as earache or difficulty hearing?
- Have you had any drainage from your ears?
- Have you experienced earache, difficulty hearing or drainage in the past?
- Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
What you can do in the meantime
Don't attempt to dig out earwax with cotton swabs or other items — such as hairpins or pen caps. This can push the wax farther into the ear and cause serious injury to the ear canal or eardrum.