Understanding Impacted Ear Wax: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Impacted earwax is a condition in which an excessive amount of earwax builds up in the ear canal and becomes hardened, making it difficult for the wax to naturally work its way out of the ear. This can cause a blockage in the ear canal, leading to symptoms such as earache, hearing loss, ringing in the ears, dizziness, and a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear.
Earwax is a natural substance produced by the body to help protect the ear canal from infection and injury. In most cases, earwax is self-cleaning and doesn't require any intervention. However, some people may produce more earwax than others, or their earwax may be more prone to hardening, which can increase the risk of impacted earwax.
If you suspect that you have impacted earwax, it is important to see a healthcare professional for an evaluation and appropriate treatment. Attempting to remove earwax on your own, such as with cotton swabs or other objects, can push the wax deeper into the ear canal and potentially cause more harm.
This article will help shed some light on what impacted earwax is, how does impacted ear wax happen, does impacted earwax go away on its own, can impacted ear wax cause vertigo, and other questions about impacted earwax.
What is impacted ear wax?
There are several causes of impacted earwax, including:
- Overproduction of earwax: Some people naturally produce more earwax than others, which can increase the risk of blockage and impaction.
- Improper ear cleaning: Using cotton swabs or other objects to clean the ear can push wax deeper into the ear canal, increasing the risk of impaction.
- Narrow ear canals: Some people have naturally narrow ear canals, which can make it more difficult for earwax to naturally work its way out of the ear.
- Use of hearing aids or earplugs: Wearing hearing aids or earplugs can push earwax deeper into the ear canal, leading to impaction.
- Skin conditions: Certain skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis, can affect the skin in and around the ear canal and increase the production of earwax.
- Age: As people age, the consistency of their earwax may change, making it more likely to harden and become impacted.
The symptoms of impacted earwax can vary from person to person and may include:
- Earache: This can be caused by the pressure of the wax buildup in the ear canal.
- Hearing loss: The buildup of earwax can block sound waves from reaching the eardrum, leading to temporary hearing loss.
- Tinnitus: This is a ringing or buzzing sound in the ear that can be caused by the pressure of the earwax against the eardrum.
- Dizziness: In some cases, the pressure of the earwax against the eardrum can cause dizziness or vertigo.
- Itchiness: A buildup of earwax can cause itchiness in the ear canal.
- Fullness or pressure in the ear: This can be caused by the blockage of the ear canal by the earwax.
Keep in mind that these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, so it's important to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
How is impacted ear wax diagnosed?
A doctor can diagnose impacted earwax through a physical examination of the ear canal using an otoscope, which is a handheld instrument that has a light and magnifying lens. The doctor may also ask about your symptoms and medical history to help confirm the diagnosis.
During the physical examination, the doctor will look for signs of earwax buildup in the ear canal, such as a visible blockage or discoloration of the earwax. They may also check for other ear problems, such as infections or injuries, that could be causing your symptoms.
In some cases, the doctor may recommend a hearing test to assess the extent of the hearing loss and determine if it is related to the impacted earwax.
The removal process for impacted earwax typically involves several steps and can be done in a doctor's office or other healthcare settings. The exact process may vary depending on the severity of the impaction and the healthcare provider's preferred technique. Here are some common methods of earwax removal:
- Irrigation: This involves flushing out the ear canal with warm water or a saline solution to soften the earwax and flush it out. The healthcare provider may use a syringe or a special irrigation device to perform this procedure.
- Manual removal: This involves using special instruments, such as a curette or forceps, to gently remove the impacted earwax from the ear canal.
- Suction: This involves using a small suction device to gently remove the earwax from the ear canal.
- Ear drops: This involves using ear drops to soften the earwax before removal. The drops may contain hydrogen peroxide, saline solution, or other agents that help dissolve the earwax.
- Microsuction: This is a specialized procedure that involves using a small suction device and a microscope to carefully remove the earwax from the ear canal.
Can impacted ear wax fix itself?
Nobody wants to go to the doctor, but eventually, minor issues can turn into serious matters. Here we ask, “will impacted ear wax fix itself?”
The body has a natural process for removing earwax, which involves the migration of earwax from the ear canal to the outer ear where it can be easily removed. This process is typically self-regulating and helps to prevent the buildup of earwax in the ear canal. Here are some of the ways the body naturally removes earwax:
- Jaw movement: The movement of the jaw during activities such as chewing and talking can help to naturally move earwax out of the ear canal.
- Earwax migration: Earwax naturally migrates from the ear canal to the outer ear over time, where it can be easily wiped away.
- Ear canal cleaning: As we move our jaws, the skin in the ear canal naturally grows outwards, which can help to remove earwax and other debris from the ear canal.
- Ear canal self-cleaning: The ear canal is lined with tiny hairs and small glands that produce earwax. These structures help to move earwax and other debris out of the ear canal and towards the outer ear.
The body's natural process for removing earwax can sometimes be disrupted, leading to the buildup of earwax and potential impaction.
Can ear wax pushed itself out? Well, in some cases, an impacted ear canal can resolve itself on its own without medical intervention. This may happen if the earwax softens or dislodges naturally, or if the body's natural earwax removal process can move the earwax out of the ear canal. However, it's important to note that this may not always be the case, and impacted earwax can lead to uncomfortable symptoms and potential complications if left untreated.
When should you see a doctor for impacted ear wax?
You should seek medical attention for impacted earwax if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Earache: Impacted earwax can cause discomfort or pain in the ear. It may be especially bad in the morning. See our blog post "Why does my ear hurt when I wake up?"
- Decreased hearing: Impacted earwax can block sound from entering the ear canal and lead to a decrease in hearing.
- Tinnitus: Impacted earwax can cause ringing, buzzing, or other noises in the ear.
- Dizziness or vertigo: Impacted earwax can affect the inner ear and cause dizziness or vertigo.
- Coughing: Impacted earwax can stimulate the cough reflex and cause coughing.
- Ear discharge: Impacted earwax can cause discharge or drainage from the ear.
- Itching: Impacted earwax can cause itching in the ear canal.
You also should seek medical attention if you have a history of ear problems or ear surgeries, or if you have tried to remove earwax on your own and are experiencing persistent symptoms.
If left untreated, impacted earwax can potentially lead to several complications, including:
- Hearing loss: Impacted earwax can block the ear canal and reduce the ability to hear.
- Ear infections: Impacted earwax can create a favorable environment for bacterial growth and increase the risk of ear infections.
- Tinnitus: Impacted earwax can cause ringing, buzzing, or other noises in the ear.
- Vertigo: Impacted earwax can affect the inner ear and cause dizziness or vertigo.
- Eardrum perforation: Attempting to remove earwax on your own, such as with cotton swabs or other objects, can push the wax deeper into the ear canal and potentially cause a perforation (hole) in the eardrum.
- Ear canal blockage: Impacted earwax can cause a complete blockage of the ear canal, which can be uncomfortable and difficult to treat.
How can impacted ear wax be prevented?
Here are some tips for preventing impacted earwax:
- Don't insert objects into your ear canal: This includes cotton swabs, hairpins, or other objects, as they can push wax deeper into the ear canal and potentially cause damage to the ear.
- Don't use ear candles: Ear candles are not effective for removing earwax and can cause serious injury to the ear.
- Keep your ears clean: Gently clean the outside of your ears with a damp cloth, but avoid inserting anything into the ear canal.
- Use earplugs when swimming: Earplugs can help prevent water from entering the ear canal and potentially causing wax buildup.
- Avoid excessive earwax removal: Although it may be tempting to try to remove earwax on your own, excessive cleaning can actually cause the production of more wax and potentially lead to impaction.
- Use ear drops: Over-the-counter ear drops can help soften earwax and make it easier to remove. Follow the instructions on the label and avoid using ear drops if you have a history of ear problems or if you have a perforated eardrum.
- Consult with a healthcare professional: If you have a history of ear problems or if you experience symptoms of impacted earwax, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and treatment. They can recommend the best treatment options for your situation and help prevent potential complications.
Here are some Dos and Don'ts for earwax removal:
- Use over-the-counter ear drops to soften the wax and make it easier to remove.
- Consult with a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and treatment if you have a history of ear problems or if you experience symptoms of impacted earwax.
- Follow the instructions on earwax removal products carefully.
- Gently clean the outer part of your ear with a damp cloth.
- Use earplugs to prevent water from entering the ear canal while swimming or showering.
- Don't insert any objects into your ear canal, including cotton swabs (see "How to get cotton out of your ear"), hairpins, or other objects, as they can push wax deeper into the ear canal and potentially cause damage to the ear.
- Don't use ear candles, as they are not effective for removing earwax and can cause serious injury to the ear.
- Don't use excessive force when trying to remove earwax, as this can lead to injury or further impaction of the wax.
- Don't use ear drops if you have a perforated eardrum or a history of ear problems without consulting a healthcare professional first.
- Don't attempt to remove earwax on your own if you are experiencing symptoms of an ear infection or have a history of eardrum perforation.
ScopeAround: Otoscopes With Ear Wax Removal
Earwax, also known as cerumen, is a natural substance produced by the ear to protect the ear canal from dirt, bacteria, and other foreign particles. When too much earwax builds up in the ear canal, it can become impacted and cause symptoms such as earache, decreased hearing, tinnitus, and dizziness. Some of the causes of impacted earwax include excessive cleaning, narrow ear canals, and the use of hearing aids or earplugs. A healthcare professional can diagnose impacted earwax by examining the ear canal and recommend treatment options, such as ear drops or ear irrigation, to remove the wax.
Will impacted ear wax go away on its own? Possibly, but it's important to seek medical attention if you experience symptoms of impacted earwax to prevent potential complications such as hearing loss, ear infections, tinnitus, vertigo, eardrum perforation, or ear canal blockage. To prevent impacted earwax, it's recommended to avoid inserting objects into the ear canal, keep the ears clean, use earplugs when swimming, and consult with a healthcare professional if you have a history of ear problems or experience symptoms of impacted earwax. When removing earwax, it's important to follow the dos and don'ts, such as avoiding excessive force, using ear drops as directed, and not using ear candles or inserting any objects into the ear canal.
If you want to perform at-home ear canal examinations and keep tabs on your ear wax then visit ScopeAround for a range of options. ScopeAround brought the first digital otoscope for consumers to the market over five years ago so we have more experience and customer feedback to make the best digital home otoscopes available. We make a complete range of digital otoscope products including free-standing models to USB-connected, Lightning cable-connected, and WiFi-connected devices with an otoscope camera app for your mobile device. Shop ScopeAround Otoscopes now!
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