Earwax blockage occurs when earwax (cerumen) builds up in your ear or becomes too hard to wash away naturally.
Earwax is a helpful and natural part of your body's defenses. It cleans, coats and protects your ear canal by trapping dirt and slowing the growth of bacteria.
If earwax blockage becomes a problem, your health care provider can take simple steps to remove the wax safely.
Signs and symptoms of earwax blockage may include:
- Feeling of fullness in the ear
- Ringing or noises in the ear (tinnitus)
- Hearing loss
- Itchiness in the ear
- Odor or discharge in the ear
- Pain or infection in the ear
When to see a doctor
Earwax blockage that has no symptoms can sometimes clear on its own. However, if you have signs and symptoms of earwax blockage, talk to your health care provider.
Signs and symptoms may signal another condition. There's no way to know if you have too much earwax without having someone, usually your health care provider, look in your ears. Having signs and symptoms, such as earache or hearing loss, doesn't always mean you have wax buildup. You may have another health condition that needs attention.
Wax removal is most safely done by a health care provider. Your ear canal and eardrum are delicate and can be damaged easily. Don't try to remove earwax yourself by putting anything in your ear canal, such as a cotton swab, especially if you have had ear surgery, have a hole (perforation) in your eardrum, or are having ear pain or drainage.
Children usually have their ears checked as part of any medical exam. If needed, a health care provider can remove excess earwax from your child's ear during an office visit.
The wax in your ears is made by glands in the skin of your outer ear canal. The wax and tiny hairs in these passages trap dust and other materials that could damage deeper parts of your ear, such as your eardrum.
In most people, a small amount of earwax regularly makes its way to the ear opening. At the opening, it's washed away or falls out as new wax replaces it. If your ears make too much wax or if earwax isn't cleared well enough, it may build up and block your ear canal.
Earwax blockages often happen when people try to get earwax out on their own by using cotton swabs or other items in their ears. This usually just pushes wax deeper into the ear, rather than removing it.
Jul 12, 2022
- Earwax (cerumen impaction). American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery. https://www.enthealth.org/conditions/earwax-cerumen-impaction. Accessed March 20, 2022.
- Dinces EA. Cerumen. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed March 21, 2022.
- AskMayoExpert. Cerumen impaction. Mayo Clinic; 2022.
- Schwartz SR, et al. Clinical practice guideline (update): Earwax (cerumen impaction). Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery. 2017; doi:10.1177/0194599816671491.