Definition Ear wax blockage is a common complaint that causes no serious effects. It involves wax build up that produces a sensation of fullness in the ear, and possibly partial deafness.
What is going on in the body? Ear wax is produced all the time in the ear. This wax helps to form a protective coating around the skin in the ear canal. Usually, the ear canal is designed to clean itself. Ear wax will generally move outward during chewing and with the growth of the ear canal lining. Every day or two, a person may notice a little wax at the opening of the ear. In some people, the wax may build up.
What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? Those with wax blockage may notice:
flakes or crusts of wax falling out of the ear
a feeling of fullness in the ear
What are the causes and risks of the condition? Some people produce more ear wax than others do. Those with narrow ear canals may be more prone to wax blockage. The condition causes no risks other than a short-term dulled sense of hearing in some people.
What can be done to prevent the condition? Usually, nothing can be done to prevent the first episode of ear wax blockage. Those who have repeated episodes of wax blockage can use treatment to prevent future blockage. Using wax softening drops once or twice per week can often prevent future wax blockage.
How is the condition diagnosed? In most cases, a doctor can confirm a diagnosis by looking into the ear with an otoscope. Some cases require the use of a special tool to look deeper into the ear canal in order to see the wax.
What are the long-term effects of the condition? There are no long-term effects. When left alone, this condition will often go away on its own.
What are the risks to others? There are no risks to others.
What are the treatments for the condition? Eardrops are available at most pharmacies. These drops soften the wax and often cause it to fall out on its own. In more resistant or bothersome cases, an ear syringe may be used to remove wax blockage. This involves squirting lukewarm water into the ear. The water can dislodge the wax and cause it to fall out. Usually, eardrops are used first to soften the wax. Other devices are available in some areas, but should be discussed with a doctor. Cotton swabs such as Q-tips should not be used.
What are the side effects of the treatments? Some eardrops may cause inflammation of the ear canal, especially if used more than twice per week. Slight dizziness may occur after using an ear syringe, but this goes away quickly. Cotton swabs may push wax deeper into the ear canal and cause infection. They should not be used at home. Those with a ruptured or perforated eardrum, repeated ear infections, or previous ear surgery such as ear tube insertion should avoid using an ear syringe. Such people should discuss wax blockage with their doctor before treating it at home.
What happens after treatment for the condition? The wax blockage is usually removed and people no longer have symptoms.
How is the condition monitored? Symptoms and physical examination can be used to monitor this condition. If a person doesn't have symptoms, no monitoring is needed.
Author: Adam Brochert, MD Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia Last Updated: 1/10/2001 Contributors Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request
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