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Earwax is a natural substance that your body makes to protect the ear canal. It's a mixture of skin, sweat, hair, and debris (such as shampoo and dirt) held together with a fluid that comes from glands inside the ear canal (ceruminous glands). The ear canals are self-cleaning.
Earwax helps filter dust and keeps the ears clean. It also protects the ear canal from infection. Normally, earwax is a self-draining liquid that doesn't cause problems. As the skin of the ear canal sheds, the wax is carried to the outer part of the ear canal and drains from the ear by itself.
Earwax ranges in colour from light to dark brown or orange. In children, earwax is usually softer and lighter than the earwax produced by adults. Children produce a lot of earwax. This tapers off as they grow older.
Earwax is normally produced only in the outer half of the ear canal. It won't cause a blockage unless it is pushed in. The ear canal may become blocked (impacted) when you try to clean the ear with cotton swabs, bobby pins, or your finger and push wax deeply into the ear canal. Impacted earwax may cause some hearing loss. It can also cause other problems, such as ringing in the ears (tinnitus), a full feeling in the ears, or vertigo. Poking at the wax with cotton swabs, your fingers, or other objects usually just further presses the wax against the eardrum.
Most earwax problems can be handled with home treatment. Professional help may be needed to remove tightly packed earwax.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Vertigo is the feeling that you or your surroundings are moving when there is no actual movement. It may feel like spinning, whirling, or tilting. Vertigo may make you sick to your stomach, and you may have trouble standing, walking, or keeping your balance.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Don't try to remove earwax if you have ear pain or a discharge that looks different than earwax, if you think you have a ruptured eardrum, if you have had ear surgery, or if you have tubes in your ears.
You may be able to remove earwax yourself. Here's how.
Use warm mineral oil or a mixture of hydrogen peroxide mixed with an equal amount of room-temperature water.
Be sure to warm the fluid. Cold fluid can cause pain and dizziness.
When the wax is loose and soft, all that's usually needed to remove it from the ear canal is a gentle, warm shower.
Make sure the flushing solution is body temperature. Cool or hot fluids in the ear can make you dizzy.
Protect your ears.
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of: March 1, 2023
Author: Healthwise StaffClinical Review Board: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: March 1, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
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