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Earwax, also called cerumen, serves an essential function in the body. It helps remove dead skin cells, dirt, hair, and other debris from the ear canal.

Earwax lowers the risk of infection and prevents the ear canal from feeling uncomfortable and itchy. It also helps reduce the irritation that water causes when it enters the ear canal.

However, it is possible for the body to overproduce earwax, allowing it to build up and block the ear canal.

A blockage can occur if a person cleans their ears using a cotton swab, which can push the earwax further into the ear canal. This may also happen if a person is using a hearing aid.

The medical term for an earwax blockage is a “cerumen impaction.” People can usually treat this condition at home using simple household products.

There are several ways to deal with an earwax blockage at home, including:

Hydrogen peroxide

A common method for earwax removal is to add a few drops of hydrogen peroxide to a damp cotton ball and apply it to the affected ear. Hydrogen peroxide is a common antiseptic. A person can also use a clean eyedropper to drip the solution into the ear canal.

It is essential to tilt the head so that the affected ear is pointing upward for several minutes. This will allow the fluid to drip down into the ear canal to reach the blockage.

After a few minutes, tilting the head the other way will allow the fluid and earwax to drain until the ear canal is clear.

In one article, researchers noted that a person should apply hydrogen peroxide to the earwax about 30 minutes prior to ear irrigation. The solution can loosen up the earwax to make removal with water irrigation easier.

A person should use some caution when using pure solutions of hydrogen peroxide or drops made with the solution. At low concentrations typically found in readily available household products, hydrogen peroxide can cause skin irritation. At concentrations of 10% or higher, it can cause burns on the skin.

If irritation occurs, a person should discontinue use and talk with their doctor if their symptoms get worse.

A person should use hydrogen peroxide only if their eardrum is intact. If it is perforated or a person has had ear tubes inserted, this will cause pain.

Rubber ball syringe

A similar method is to use a rubber ball syringe with warm water. A person should have the affected ear pointing upward and use the syringe to drip warm water slowly into the ear canal.

It is vital to avoid forcefully flushing the water into the ear canal, as this can cause dizziness. The water must not be too hot or too cold.

After a minute, the person should tilt their head the other way so that the fluid and earwax can drip out. They may find that pulling up slightly on their ear may help with allowing the water to drain out.

It may be necessary to repeat this process multiple times. Anyone who has an ear injury, such as a ruptured eardrum, should not use this method. People who frequently get swimmer’s ear should not use this method.

Ear drops

It is possible to purchase ear drops over the counter (OTC) or online to treat an earwax blockage. These are usually water- or oil-based solutions that soften the earwax. They often contain carbamide peroxide, which is similar to hydrogen peroxide.

To use an OTC solution, people should follow the instructions on the packaging. Usually, they will need to apply between 5 to 10 drops of the solution to the affected ear twice per day for several days until the ear canal is clear.

If the ear drops do not completely remove the earwax, a person may need to combine the treatment with the warm water and rubber syringe to flush or irrigate the ear. If the problem persists past 4 days, a person should talk with their doctor.

Other household remedies

Using an eyedropper, it is also possible to apply other substances. According to a 2018 article, other products that can work to help clear wax include:

  • baby oil
  • saline
  • almond, arachis, or rectified camphor oil
  • almond or mineral oil
  • sodium bicarbonate, 10%
  • glycerin
  • acetic acid, 2.5%

The same article warns against using olive oil drops or sprays, cotton-tipped swabs, or ear candling.

Again, a person should apply one or two drops with the affected ear facing upward, wait a few minutes, then tilt the head the other way to allow the fluid to drain out. As with other remedies, a person should not put any of these in their ear unless their eardrum is intact or the treatment is approved by a doctor.

People should avoid using ear candles to treat earwax blockages.

Using ear candles is also known as ear coning or thermal-auricular therapy. It involves covering a hollow fabric cone in wax or paraffin, inserting it into the ear of a person lying on their side, and then lighting it. A paper plate protects the skin by catching any dripping wax.

The theory is that ear candling creates suction to pull the earwax out of the ear.

According to a 2016 study, a person should avoid ear candling and opt for safer methods to remove earwax buildup. The American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery Foundation also warns against the use of ear candles, citing that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has removed several products from the market due to safety concerns.

There are safer and more effective methods of treating earwax blockages, so a person should not attempt to use ear candles.

When done properly, following all instructions on home kits or from a doctor, a person can safely remove earwax at home.

However, several groups of people should avoid using any method to remove earwax at home. Some people who should not use home remedies or OTC kits include those who:

  • cannot sit upright or who are unable to sit still
  • have a foreign body stuck in the ear
  • have had ear surgery or inner ear issues
  • have a hole or tear in the ear drum
  • get swimmer’s ear
  • have severe swimmer’s ear
  • have a history of middle ear disease
  • have had radiation in the area

If a person has any doubts, they should talk with their doctor instead of attempting to clean out their earwax at home.

Earwax removal kits or irrigation systems can vary slightly, based on the active ingredients and the exact device used. A person should follow all instructions on the box and from their doctor before using the kit.

In general, a person will likely take these steps to clean their earwax using irrigation or a home kit system, per a 2021 article:

  1. A person should find a comfortable chair to sit upright in and tilt their head to the side, then place a few drops of warm water, saline, hydrogen peroxide, or the provided solution in the kit into the ear.
  2. They should then sit with their head tilted to the side for about 15 to 30 minutes.
  3. After the solution has soaked into the earwax, the person should use the provided device to suck the solution into the bulb or flush the ear wax from the ear.
  4. When finished, the person should dry the surrounding area.

If any issues occur, a person should see their doctor as soon as possible.

The most common symptom of earwax blockages is a temporary hearing problem or hearing loss. This may be worrying, but usual hearing should return upon removal of the blockage.

Other symptoms may include:

  • pain in the ear
  • tinnitus, or ringing in the ear
  • dizziness
  • a feeling of fullness in the ear

Inserting cotton buds or other objects into the ear in an attempt to clean it can actually cause or worsen an earwax blockage. This is because the objects push the earwax further down into the ear canal.

To prevent earwax blockages, a person should avoid sticking anything into their ear. Earwax may seem unpleasant, but cleaning is not usually necessary. The ears are actually self-cleaning and should push most wax out.

If the body is producing excessive amounts of earwax, people can buy OTC ear drops to deal with the problem safely.

Another method of preventing earwax blockages involves a person placing drops of a solution into their ears a few times per month to help soften the earwax. People can choose from a range of products online, including:

Regularly irrigating the ear may help prevent earwax buildups, but it is usually best to save this for treating an actual blockage. A person should never irrigate the ears of young children without talking with a doctor first.

People can treat most earwax blockages at home. However, the ear canal and eardrum are delicate, so it can be safer to visit a doctor for earwax removal.

People should also see a doctor if they have bleeding or drainage from the ear or are in significant pain, as another issue may be causing the symptoms.

Anyone with concerns about impacted cerumen in a young child should make an appointment with a pediatrician. They will be able to check the child’s ears and recommend treatment options.

A doctor may remove the blockage using specialized ear instruments.

A person may need to see their doctor after a few days if symptoms persist or get worse with home treatment.