Diagnosis

Your health care provider can see if you have earwax blockage by looking in your ear. Your provider uses a special tool that lights and magnifies your inner ear (otoscope) to look in your ear.

Treatment

Your health care provider can remove excess wax by using a small, curved tool called a curet or by using suction techniques. Your provider can also flush out the wax using a syringe filled with warm water and saline or diluted hydrogen peroxide. Medicated ear drops may also be recommended to help soften the wax, 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.

If earwax buildup continues, you may need to visit your health care provider once or twice a year for regular cleaning. Your health care provider may also recommend that you use earwax-softening agents such as saline, mineral oil or olive oil. This helps loosen the wax so that it can leave the ear more easily.

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Lifestyle and home remedies

You can get many ear cleaning home remedies over the counter. But most of these treatments — such as irrigation or ear vacuum kits — aren't well studied. This means they may not work and may be dangerous.

The safest way to clean your ears if you have excess wax is to see your health care provider. If you're prone to earwax blockage, your health care provider can show you safe ways to reduce wax buildup at home, such as using ear drops or other earwax-softening agents. People shouldn't use ear drops if they have an ear infection unless it's recommended by a health care provider.

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.

Alternative medicine

Some people try to remove earwax themselves using a technique called ear candling (ear coning). Ear candling involves lighting one end of a hollow, cone-shaped candle and placing the other unlit end into the ear. The idea is that the heat from the flame will create a vacuum seal that draws wax up and out of the ear.

However, ear candling isn't a recommended treatment for earwax blockage. Research has found that ear candling doesn't work. It may also burn or damage the ear.

Essential oils — such as tea tree oil or garlic oil — are also not a proven treatment for earwax blockage. There is no data that shows they are safe for earwax removal, or that they work.

Talk to your health care provider before trying any alternative remedies for removing earwax.

Preparing for your appointment

You're likely to start by seeing your health care provider. In some rare cases, however, you may be referred to a provider with special training 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 health care provider may have questions for you as well, such as:

  • How long have you been having symptoms, such as earache or hearing loss?
  • Have you had any drainage from your ears?
  • Have you had earache, trouble hearing or drainage in the past?
  • Do your symptoms happen all the time or only sometimes?
July 12, 2022
  1. Earwax (cerumen impaction). American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery. https://www.enthealth.org/conditions/earwax-cerumen-impaction. Accessed March 20, 2022.
  2. Dinces EA. Cerumen. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed March 21, 2022.
  3. AskMayoExpert. Cerumen impaction. Mayo Clinic; 2022.
  4. Schwartz SR, et al. Clinical practice guideline (update): Earwax (cerumen impaction). Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery. 2017; doi:10.1177/0194599816671491.

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