People can remove excess earwax in several different ways. Using ear drops is one easy and effective method. Many commercially available ear drops contain hydrogen peroxide.
While hydrogen peroxide can help remove excess earwax, using too much can irritate the skin inside the ear and lead to other problems.
Earwax is a waxy substance produced in the ear canal. While having earwax is generally a good thing — it protects and cleans the ear canal — too much earwax can cause issues.
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation, problems with earwax account for about 12 million visits to doctors’ offices and 8 million earwax removal procedures.
In this article, we discuss why a person might put hydrogen peroxide in their ear and what can happen if they use too much.
The medical term for earwax is cerumen. Hydrogen peroxide is a cerumenolytic solution that softens and dissolves earwax. A person may use hydrogen peroxide or ear drops containing hydrogen peroxide to remove excess earwax.
Usually, the ears produce enough earwax to protect and clean the ear canal.
Specialized glands, called ceruminous glands, secrete fats and acidic substances that protect the ear from infections. These secretions trap dead skin cells, dust, and dirt inside the ear. This mixture forms the waxy material commonly known as earwax.
Normally, earwax gets pushed out of the ear canal when a person moves their lower jaw while speaking or eating. However, earwax can accumulate in the ear canal if this natural cleaning process fails.
Factors that can cause excess earwax include:
- wearing hearing aids
- wearing in-ear headphones
- cleaning the ear with cotton buds
- structural abnormalities of the ear canal
If too much earwax builds up in the ear, it can form a plug, resulting in a condition known as cerumen impaction. According to the authors of one 2020 article, cerumen impaction affects an estimated 6% of the general population and more than 30% of older adults.
Excess earwax and cerumen impaction can lead to problems such as:
Ear drops can contain different types of hydrogen peroxide or other substances that soften earwax.
Carbamide peroxide is a common form of hydrogen peroxide ear drops. These drops release oxygen in the earwax, causing it to bubble. The addition of oxygen softens the plug, making it easier to remove.
In general, hydrogen peroxide has a good safety profile if used properly. Most over-the-counter (OTC) hydrogen peroxide solutions contain purified water and 3% hydrogen peroxide. OTC ear drops contain 6.5% carbamide peroxide.
Hydrogen peroxide is generally safe at low concentrations. However, some people may experience side effects, including:
- temporary fizzing or bubbling sensation
- bitter taste
- temporary pain in the ear
- temporary hearing loss
According to a 2018 article, hydrogen peroxide can result in residual bubbling inside the ear canal. If this happens, doctors may have difficulty examining the inner ear.
Hydrogen peroxide can cause skin irritation and blistering. It can even cause burns at concentrations over 10%.
Using too much hydrogen peroxide can irritate the skin inside the ear, leading to inflammation and earaches.
People should not use ear drops if they have an ear infection or a damaged eardrum.
People should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions or a doctor’s advice when using ear drops. They should not put more than 10 drops in the ear at one time. People can place 5–10 drops in each ear twice daily for up to 4 days.
A person can flush out excess hydrogen peroxide and earwax with warm water or a bulb syringe.
A person should consult a doctor if they experience ear discomfort or pain or if the drops do not improve their symptoms.
Hydrogen peroxide ear drops may not remove enough earwax if used alone. In this case, a person may want to consider rinsing the ear with an ear syringe.
People can find ear syringes at their local drugstores or through online retailers. They should always follow the instructions printed on the product label.
People can use other earwax softeners, such as:
- acetic acid
- docusate sodium
- sodium bicarbonate
- ear drops containing camphor, almond, or mineral oils
Place a few drops in the affected ear twice per day for 2–3 days. This will help loosen the earwax. Fill a bulb syringe with lukewarm water or a water and saline mixture.
Place the tip of the syringe near the opening of the ear and gently squeeze the bulb of the syringe. This will force the water inside the bulb into the ear.
Turn the head to the side so that any excess water and wax can flow out of the ear. People may want to perform ear irrigation over a sink or bathtub.
People should not attempt to remove wax with a foreign object, such as cotton swabs, pens, or paper clips. Doing so can push wax farther in the ear canal.
A person may want to consider consulting a doctor if they have excess earwax that causes:
- ear pain
- hearing difficulties
- ear drainage
People should also seek medical attention if OTC or at-home treatments do not work.
Hydrogen peroxide is a common ingredient in OTC ear drops. It is a cerumenolytic solution that softens and dissolves earwax.
However, hydrogen peroxide can irritate the skin inside the ear canal if a person uses it too frequently.