Earwax Blockage (Cerumen Impaction)

A child having their ears examined for an earwax blockage.

Earwax, called cerumen, is produced by special wax-forming glands located in the skin of the outer one-third of the ear canal.

It is normal to have cerumen in the ear canal as this waxy substance serves as a self-cleaning agent with protective, lubricating, and antibacterial properties. The absence of earwax may result in dry, itchy ears. Self-cleaning means there is a slow and orderly movement of earwax and dead skin cells from the eardrum to the ear opening. Old earwax is constantly being transported, assisted by chewing and jaw motion, from the ear canal to the ear opening where, most of the time, it dries, flakes, and falls out.

What Are the Symptoms of Earwax Blockage?

Symptoms of an earwax problem may include:

Why Is It Dangerous to Use Swabs to Remove Earwax?

  • Wax blockage is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. This is often caused by attempts to clean the ear with cotton swabs. Most cleaning attempts merely push the wax deeper into the ear canal which is shaped like an hourglass, causing a blockage at the narrowing part of the ear canal. In addition, accidental trauma to the ear drum or ear bones can occur if the swab is pushed too deep.
  • Good intentions to keep ears clean may lessen the ability to hear. The ear is a delicate and complicated body part, including the skin of the ear canal and the eardrum. Therefore, special care should be given to this part of the body. Discontinue the habit of inserting cotton-tipped swabs or other objects into the ear canals.

When Should I Talk to my ENT Doctor?

  • If home treatments do not help, or if wax has accumulated so much that it blocks your ear canal and your ability to hear, here at Rocky Top ENT, a specialist may prescribe eardrops designed to soften wax, or they may wash or vacuum it out. Your ENT specialist may also need to remove the wax under microscopic visualization.
  • If there is a possibility of a perforation in the eardrum, consult a physician prior to trying any over-the-counter remedies. Putting eardrops or other products in the ear with the presence of an eardrum perforation may cause pain or an infection. Washing water through such a hole could start an infection.
  • If you are prone to repeated wax impaction or use hearing aids, consider seeing your doctor every six to 12 months for a checkup and routine preventive cleaning.

Call Rocky Top ENT & Allergy at 931-219-9990 or 865-383-0737 for more information and to schedule an appointment.