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Earwax is a waxy oil (also called cerumen) produced by glands in the skin that lines the outer half of your ear canals. It is a helpful and natural part of your body's defenses. It cleans, lubricates and protects your ear canal from dust, foreign particles, and microorganisms. It also protects ear canal skin from irritation due to water. In normal circumstances, excess wax finds its way out of the canal and into the ear opening naturally and then is washed away.
When your glands make more earwax than is necessary, it may get hard and block the ear. When you clean your ears, especially if you place cotton swabs or other items in your ears, you can accidentally push the wax deeper, causing a blockage. Wax buildup is a common reason for temporary hearing loss.
If earwax blockage becomes a problem you should take great caution when trying to treat earwax buildup at home. If the problem persists, visit your doctor. Treatment is generally quick and painless, and hearing can be fully restored.
The appearance of earwax varies from light yellow to dark brown. Darker colors do not necessarily indicate that there is a blockage.
Signs of earwax buildup include: sudden or partial hearing loss; tinnitus, which is a ringing or buzzing in the ear; a feeling of fullness in the ear; earache.
Unremoved earwax buildup can lead to infection. Contact your doctor if you experience the symptoms of infection, such as: severe pain in your ear; drainage from your ear; fever; an odor coming from your ear; dizziness
It's important to note that hearing loss, dizziness, and earaches can have many other causes some of which can be serious. You should see your doctor if any of these symptoms are frequent. A full medical evaluation can help determine whether the problem is due to excess earwax or another health issue entirely.
Your doctor can remove excess wax using a small, curved instrument called a curette or by using suction while inspecting the ear. Your doctor can also flush out the wax using a water pick or a rubber-bulb syringe filled with warm water.
If earwax buildup is a recurring problem, your doctor may recommend that you use a wax-removal medication, such as carbamide peroxide (Debrox, Murine Earwax Removal System). Because these drops can irritate the delicate skin of the eardrum and ear canal, use them only as directed. You should never attempt to dig out earwax buildup yourself. This can cause major damage to your ear and lead to infection or hearing loss.
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