A look at tinnitus and whether it can be caused by earwax buildup.

In this blog post, we explore the connection between earwax buildup and tinnitus. While tinnitus is the perception of sound in the absence of an external source, earwax buildup can potentially contribute to its onset.

Excessive accumulation of earwax can cause a blockage in the ear canal, disrupting the normal transmission of sound waves and leading to symptoms such as partial hearing loss and a sensation of fullness in the ear. This blockage can also trigger the brain to perceive phantom sounds, resulting in the characteristic ringing, buzzing, or hissing associated with tinnitus.

It is important to understand the relationship between earwax buildup and tinnitus in order to seek appropriate medical attention and management for these conditions. Can you get tinnitus from earwax? Keep reading to learn more.

What is tinnitus and what causes it?

Tinnitus is a condition characterized by the perception of sound in the absence of an external sound source. It commonly presents as a ringing, buzzing, hissing, or whistling sound in one or both ears. While tinnitus itself is not a disease, it is often a symptom of an underlying condition.

The exact cause of tinnitus is not fully understood, but it can result from various factors. Here are some common causes:

  1. Exposure to loud noises: Prolonged exposure to loud sounds, such as music concerts, construction sites, or loud machinery, can damage the delicate sensory cells in the inner ear, leading to tinnitus.
  2. Age-related hearing loss: As individuals age, there is a natural degeneration of the auditory system, including the hair cells in the inner ear. This age-related hearing loss, known as presbycusis, can be associated with tinnitus.
  3. Earwax blockage: Accumulation of earwax can cause blockage in the ear canal, affecting the transmission of sound and leading to temporary tinnitus from earwax.
  4. Ototoxic medications: Certain medications, such as some antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), cancer drugs (chemotherapy), and high doses of aspirin, can cause tinnitus as a side effect.
  5. Ear and sinus infections: Infections in the ear or sinuses can cause inflammation and fluid buildup, which can contribute to tinnitus.
  6. Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders: Problems with the joint that connects the jawbone to the skull (TMJ) can be associated with tinnitus.
  7. Head and neck injuries: Traumatic injuries, such as those resulting from accidents or blows to the head or neck, can cause tinnitus.
  8. Medical conditions: Tinnitus can be a symptom of certain medical conditions, including Meniere's disease, acoustic neuroma (a benign tumor on the cranial nerve), high blood pressure (hypertension), and vascular disorders.

It's important to note that tinnitus can have a significant impact on an individual's quality of life, causing distress, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and difficulty concentrating. If you or someone you know is experiencing tinnitus, it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and management.

What is earwax buildup and what causes it?

Earwax buildup, also known as cerumen impaction or earwax blockage, occurs when there is an excessive accumulation of earwax in the ear canal. Earwax, medically known as cerumen, is a waxy substance produced by the glands in the ear canal. It serves a protective function by trapping dust, debris, and foreign particles, preventing them from reaching the delicate structures of the inner ear.

The causes of earwax buildup can vary from person to person, but some common factors include:

  1. Overproduction of earwax: Some individuals naturally produce more earwax than others, which can increase the likelihood of buildup and blockage.
  2. Inadequate cleaning: Improper or infrequent cleaning of the ears can lead to a buildup of earwax. Using cotton swabs or other objects to clean the ears can push the wax deeper into the ear canal, exacerbating the problem.
  3. Narrow or curving ear canals: Certain anatomical features, such as narrow or curving ear canals, can make it more difficult for earwax to naturally exit the ear, increasing the chances of buildup.
  4. Use of hearing aids or earplugs: The regular use of hearing aids, earplugs, or earphones can interfere with the natural migration of earwax out of the ear canal, resulting in accumulation.
  5. Aging: As people age, the consistency of earwax may change, becoming drier and harder. This can make it more difficult for the wax to move out of the ear naturally, leading to blockages.

Symptoms of earwax buildup can include earache, a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear, partial hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ear), and dizziness. If you suspect you have earwax buildup, it is advisable to seek medical attention. A healthcare professional, such as an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist), can examine your ears and determine the best course of action for safe and effective removal of the earwax. It is important to avoid attempting to remove the wax yourself using objects like cotton swabs, as this can push the wax deeper or cause damage to the ear canal.

Can earwax buildup cause tinnitus?

Yes, earwax buildup can potentially cause tinnitus. When excess earwax accumulates in the ear canal, it can create a blockage, impeding the natural flow of sound waves and affecting sound transmission to the inner ear. This blockage can lead to various symptoms, including a sensation of fullness in the ear, partial hearing loss, and tinnitus.

The presence of earwax buildup can disrupt the normal functioning of the auditory system, causing the brain to perceive phantom sounds such as ringing, buzzing, or hissing, which are characteristic of tinnitus. However, it's important to note that not all cases of tinnitus are directly caused by earwax buildup. Tinnitus can have various underlying causes, and earwax buildup is just one potential factor.

Pulsatile tinnitus is a specific type of tinnitus from earwax characterized by the perception of rhythmic or pulsing sounds in the ear that coincide with the individual's heartbeat or blood flow. Unlike regular tinnitus, which is often described as a continuous or constant sound, pulsatile tinnitus tends to have a rhythmic quality.

While earwax buildup is not a common cause of pulsatile tinnitus, it can contribute to this condition in certain cases. If excessive earwax obstructs the ear canal and puts pressure on nearby blood vessels or the eardrum, it can interfere with blood flow and cause pulsatile tinnitus from earwax symptoms.

However, it's important to note that there are other potential causes of pulsatile tinnitus, such as vascular disorders, high blood pressure, or abnormalities in the blood vessels near the ear. If you are experiencing pulsatile tinnitus, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional for a comprehensive evaluation to determine the underlying cause and appropriate management.

If you are experiencing tinnitus, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and diagnosis. They can examine your ears and determine if earwax buildup is contributing to your symptoms. If earwax is identified as a cause, they can safely remove the buildup, which may help alleviate the tinnitus.

Purchase a ScopeAround Otoscope to clean your ears!

Since earwax buildup can cause tinnitus, it’s essential to keep an eye on your ear canals and monitor them for the accumulation of earwax. Traditionally, you had to visit a doctor to do this, but now there are affordable solutions available for everyday consumers. Digital otoscopes are convenient devices at home to keep tabs on your ears, nose, mouth, and even skin. They make it easy to take photos and videos of anything that you see to share with your healthcare provider, especially if you prefer to use telehealth appointments.

ScopeAround was the first company to make a digital otoscope for consumer use and they have the most experience and customer feedback manufacturing these devices. ScopeAround makes digital otoscope cameras that are stand-alone devices as well as ones that are compatible with iPhone (iOS) and Android mobile devices as well as PC (Windows) or Mac (OSX) computers.


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