Ear, Nose and Throat

How to remove earwax at home

Earwax, also called cerumen, serves an essential function in the body. It helps to remove dead skin cells, dirt, hair, and other debris from the ear canal.

Earwax lowers the risk of infection and prevents the ear canal from feeling uncomfortable and itchy. It also helps to reduce the irritation that water causes when it enters the ear canal.

However, it is possible for the body to overproduce earwax, allowing it to build up and block the ear canal. A blockage can also occur if a person cleans their ears using a cotton swab, as this can push the earwax further into the ear canal.

The medical term for an earwax blockage is a cerumen impaction. People can usually treat this condition at home using simple household products.

Treatments and home remedies

There are several ways to deal with an earwax blockage at home, including:

Hydrogen peroxide

Woman using ear drops to remove built up ear wax
A few drops of hydrogen peroxide may help to remove earwax.

A common method for earwax removal is to add a few drops of hydrogen peroxide to a damp cotton ball and apply it to the affected ear. A person can also use a clean eyedropper to drip the solution into the ear canal.

It is essential to tilt the head so that the affected ear is pointing upward for several minutes. This will allow the fluid to drip down into the ear canal to reach the blockage.

After a few minutes, tilting the head the other way will allow the fluid and earwax to drain until the ear canal is clear.

Rubber ball syringe

A similar method is to use a rubber ball syringe with warm water. A person should have the affected ear pointing upward and use the syringe to drip warm water slowly into the ear canal.

It is vital to avoid forcefully flushing the water into the ear canal, as this can cause dizziness. The water must not be too hot or too cold.

After a minute, the person should tilt their head the other way so that the fluid and earwax can drip out.

It may be necessary to repeat this process multiple times. Anyone who has an ear injury, such as a ruptured eardrum, should not use this method.

Ear drops

It is possible to purchase over-the-counter (OTC) ear drops to treat an earwax blockage. These are usually water- or oil-based solutions that soften the earwax. They often contain carbamide peroxide, which is similar to hydrogen peroxide.

To use an OTC solution, people should follow the instructions on the packaging. Usually, they will need to apply the solution to the affected ear twice a day for several days until the ear canal is clear.

Other household remedies

Using an eyedropper, it is also possible to apply other substances, such as:

  • baby oil
  • mineral oil
  • glycerin

Again, a person should apply one or two drops with the affected ear facing upward, wait a few minutes, then tilt the head the other way to allow the fluid to drain out.


Should you use ear candles?

Person with ear candles.
Ear candles are not a reliable or safe treatment for earwax.

People should avoid using ear candles to treat earwax blockages.

Using ear candles is also known as ear coning or thermal-auricular therapy. It involves covering a hollow fabric cone in wax or paraffin, inserting it into the ear of a person lying on their side, and then lighting it. A paper plate protects the skin by catching any dripping wax.

The theory is that ear candling creates suction to pull the earwax out of the ear.

However, there is no evidence that ear candles work. They can also cause injuries. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) state that the use of ear candles can lead to:

  • bleeding
  • ruptured eardrums
  • burning
  • fires

There are safer and more effective methods of treating earwax blockages, so a person should not attempt to use ear candles.

Symptoms

The most common symptom of earwax blockages is a temporary hearing problem or hearing loss. This may be worrying, but normal hearing should return upon removal of the blockage.

Other symptoms may include:

  • pain in the ear
  • tinnitus, or ringing in the ear
  • dizziness
  • a feeling of fullness in the ear


Prevention

Cotton buds piled on blue background.
Using cotton buds in the ears may be harmful.

Inserting cotton buds or other objects into the ear in an attempt to clean it can cause an earwax blockage. This is because the objects push the earwax further down the ear canal.

To prevent earwax blockages, a person should avoid sticking anything into their ear. Earwax may seem unpleasant, but cleaning is not usually necessary.

If the body is producing excessive amounts of earwax, people can buy OTC ear drops to deal with the problem safely.

Another method of preventing earwax blockages is to soften the earwax in the ears by putting a solution into them a few times a month. People can choose from a range of products, including earwax removal drops, mineral oil, and hydrogen peroxide.

Regularly irrigating the ear may help to prevent earwax buildups, but it is usually best to save this for treating an actual blockage. Never irrigate the ears of young children without talking to a doctor first.

When to see a doctor

People can treat most earwax blockages at home. However, the ear canal and eardrum are delicate, so it can be safer to visit a doctor for earwax removal.

People should also see a doctor if they have bleeding or drainage from the ear or are in significant pain, as another issue may be causing the symptoms.

Anyone with concerns about impacted cerumen in a young child should make an appointment with a pediatrician. They will be able to check the child’s ears and recommend treatment options.

A doctor may remove the blockage using:

  • suction
  • irrigation
  • a rubber ball syringe
  • a small surgical instrument called a curette

It may also be necessary to see a doctor if the blockage is still present or worsening after a few days of home treatment.

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