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Dealing with ear wax

Man cleaning his ear with cotton bud (swab)
Close-up of a senior man's ear wearing a CIC (Completely In the Canal) hearin aid
Woman whispering a secret to husband on white background

Ear wax - simple solution to an annoying problem

Ear wax is not just a potential nuisance, it’s also a natural substance that protects the skin of your ear canals, keeping your ears clean and healthy.

It’s made up of a mixture of dead skin cells, dust and cerumen, which is the natural wax produced by glands in your ears.

Ear wax doesn’t usually cause problems, but if too much is produced, it can build up in the ear, leading to:

  • hearing loss
  • discomfort, earache and the feeling of having blocked ears
  • tinnitus

You’re more likely to have an ear-wax blockage if you:

  • work in a dusty or dirty environment, or
  • wear earplugs a lot or use hearing aids.

A wax blockage may give you mild, temporary hearing loss. For this to happen, the wax has to completely block the canal or press on the eardrum.

People often mistake the early signs of hearing loss with wax in the ear. They may ask their GP to remove excess wax from their ears, because their hearing isn’t what it used to be. In most cases, they don’t have any wax blockage to remove.

If you often have difficulty hearing the TV or radio, or if you miss words in conversation, you may have hearing loss caused by a condition in the middle or inner ear, rather than too much wax in your ears.

Never remove a wax blockage yourself. If you try to remove ear wax yourself, you risk damaging your ears and your hearing.

Inserting a cotton bud, a towel or a finger can damage the wall of the ear canal and cause inflammation, compact the wax and push it further into your ear and even tear the eardrum.

We recommend that you only use ear drops that your doctor or ear specialist has prescribed. This is because some types of wax-softening drops that you can buy over the counter may actually irritate your ears and cause inflammation and swelling in the ear canal, when used over long periods.