What is Impacted Ear Wax?

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An ear nurse removing impacted ear wax

Bees aren’t the only creatures that make wax. Your ears produce quite a bit of it. And it’s quite a fantastic substance that cleanses and protects your ears. Most of the time, you should leave your earwax alone and let it get on with its job. Earwax only becomes a problem when it builds up and begins to block your ears. That’s called impacted ear wax (earwax).

Earwax is like a gentle, antibacterial and antifungal stream that begins inside your ear canal and flows to your outer ear. When you chew or talk, your jaw movement nudges your earwax along. Its ongoing journey cleanses your ears, mopping up dirt, hair and dead skin cells along the way. It also protects your ears from infection, injury and water.

You might not love earwax, but you’d miss it if it weren’t there. You’d have itchy, uncomfortable ears that had no way of cleaning themselves.

What Causes Impacted Earwax?

Impacted earwax can be the result of:

  • Something blocking your ears and making it hard for your earwax to pass
  • Producing too much earwax, which your body can’t remove fast enough.

Some known causes of impacted earwax include:

  • Infections such as swimmer’s ear
  • Eczema (those extra bits of dry, flaking skin can harden your earwax)
  • Bony growths that cause a blockage
  • Chronic conditions or autoimmune diseases
  • A narrow ear canal (maybe you were born like that or perhaps an injury or long-term inflammation narrowed it, making it harder for earwax to get out)
  • Repeated use of objects in your ears such as hearing aids, earplugs or cotton swabs (or maybe sultanas or LEGO pieces if it’s your kid we’re talking about…)

What Are the Symptoms of Impacted Earwax?

You might not notice any symptoms until you have quite a bit of earwax. And if you do, you might not realise they’re due to ear wax because they could easily be symptoms of other medical conditions too. That’s why you need your ear nurse, doctor or audiologist to check your ears.

Earwax blockage symptoms include:

  • Earache
  • Dizziness
  • Hearing loss
  • Ears that itch, ring or feel oddly full
  • Coughing

That’s right, coughing. If a blob of earwax is pressing on your vagus nerve that supplies the outer ear, it can make you cough.

Your GP or Ear Health Nurse will determine if you have impacted ear wax by looking inside your ear. Sometimes, you may have impacted earwax when you need an ear check, and your doctor can’t see inside your ear correctly because there’s too much earwax.

Can You Remove Impacted Earwax at Home?

You do not remove impacted earwax by poking around inside your ear with a cotton bud, pencil, bobby pin or anything else. Doing so risks injuring your ear canal or even puncturing your eardrum. Many people who try to dig out their earwax make the problem worse by pushing it further into their ears.

Some over-the-counter treatments for impacted earwax removal aim to soften the earwax so it makes its way out. However, impacted earwax can be pretty stubborn or resistant to irrigation and ear drops.

In 2018, the Cochrane Collaboration reviewed the evidence for ear wax removal using drops. They found that the available evidence was low quality but concluded that ear drops might help remove excess wax. They looked at oil-based and water-based drops, using water alone or salty water (saline). They found that no one type of drop was better than any other. And they also couldn’t say for sure that drops containing active ingredients were any better than using plain or salty water.

So, ear drops may not be worth the money or the effort if they’re not much better than using water. And please don’t use ear drops before your appointment at Ear Health as it can make it almost impossible to clean your ears by Microsuction.

Treatments for Impacted Earwax at Ear Health

At Ear Health, we use Microsuction to remove impacted earwax.

It’s usually a fifteen to a twenty-minute procedure where your nurse looks into your ears using a microscope or surgical loupe. Then using a small, thin tube, a vacuum removes your earwax and any debris from your ears. The vacuum isn’t very loud but can seem loud because it’s happening right in your ear canal.

It’s over fairly quickly, and you’re able to talk to us during the procedure – we can stop and start as necessary to ensure you’re comfortable. If you think you may need earwax removal, please make an appointment today.

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