man with ear pain due to excess ear wax

Do you have excess earwax?

If you’ve ever experienced a build-up of earwax in your ear canal, you’ll know that it can be an annoying issue. While earwax itself is a healthy and natural part of how your ears clean, lubricate and defend themselves, there is such a thing as too much wax.

Ears are self-cleaning and for most people ear wax is not usually a problem. Nevertheless, for various reasons, it can sometimes build up and become visible, cause discomfort or even lead to hearing loss. If this is the case, you may be after a few tips which may help with your excess earwax.

First things first, what is earwax?

Earwax (scientifically known as cerumen) is produced by the cells in the ears to help provide an extra layer of protection from infection. It also helps prevent damage to the skin in both the ears’ canals and eardrums.

Essentially, wax is the is the ears’ equivalent of ‘sleep’ that you might get in your eyes overnight or the mucus you get in your nose to clear it of dust and unwanted bacteria. Earwax helps to trap dust, dead cells and skin, in addition to clearing the ears of potentially harmful bacteria or fungi.

Ears are often referred to as being self-cleaning. That’s because the skin of the ear canal grows towards the outside of the ear like a conveyor belt, slowly carrying wax and anything trapped inside it out. Some people may naturally produce more earwax than others, though. Although a build-up of earwax isn’t serious, it can cause irritation if it’s not removed properly1.

What problems can an earwax build-up cause?

People who suffer from excessive earwax may experience a sensation of fullness or a pressure in their ears. It’s also not uncommon to have minor hearing loss as all that earwax can potentially affect the way sound waves travel up your ear drum2.

Particularly large blockages of earwax can cause tinnitus – a condition which causes a ringing in your ears.

What may help with my excess earwax?

There are a number of different approaches which all boil down to either trying to soften the earwax so your ear can move it along on its own or gently helping to wash it out.

How to soften earwax

The best way to soften wax is by dripping some warm salt water, olive oil or almond oil into the affected ear. Lie on your side with the opening pointing upwards, apply a few drops and then remain in that position for a few minutes to allow it to soften the wax. You should then sit up and tilt your head the opposite way to allow the fluid to drain out. Repeat this process daily until the wax is gone3. Once your earwax worries have been sorted, you might want to consider giving your ears a treat with a traditional Indian ear candle ceremony. These slender candles sit in your ear and are a unique way to encourage relaxation and stress relief.

Is there anything I should avoid when removing excess earwax?

If you have a wax blockage, one thing you shouldn’t do is use a cotton wool bud to try to clear out your ears as this will only push the wax further up into the ear canal. Ideally, avoid putting anything into your ears at all, as this can easily cause damage to the delicate skin of the ear canal4.

If the above methods have not helped with your excess earwax there may be something else that is causing it. It might be worth having a chat with your GP about other potential causes.

Last updated: 20 April 2020