What is ear wax?

Ear wax, also called cerumen, is made by the body to protect the ears. The ear wax has both lubricating and antibacterial properties. Most of the time, the old ear wax is moved through the ear canal by motions from chewing and other jaw movements and as the skin of the ear canal grows from the inside out. At that time, it reaches the outside of the ear and flakes off. Ear wax is produced in the outer part of the ear canal, not deep inside the ear.

What does it mean when ear wax becomes impacted?

We say that ear wax is impacted when it has built up in the ear canal to such a point that there may be signs that something is not quite right. It is important to note that, for most people, ears might never need cleaning—they are designed to clean themselves. Ear wax buildup and blockage often happens when people use items like cotton swabs or bobby pins to try to clean their ears. This only pushes the ear wax farther into the ears and can also cause injury to the ear.

What are possible complications of ear wax impaction?

If left untreated, excessive ear wax may cause symptoms of ear wax impaction to become worse. These symptoms might include hearing loss, ear irritation, etc. A build-up of ear wax might also make it difficult to see into the ear, which may result in potential problems going undiagnosed.

What are the symptoms of ear wax impaction?

  • A feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Pain in the ear
  • Difficulty hearing, which may continue to worsen
  • Ringing in the ear (tinnitus)
  • A feeling of itchiness in the ear
  • Discharge from the ear
  • Odor coming from the ear
  • Dizziness