Earwax build-up

Earwax is made inside your ears to keep them clean. It usually falls out on its own. Sometimes too much can build up and block the ears.

A build-up of earwax is a common problem. It can often be treated using eardrops bought from a pharmacy.

Symptoms of an earwax build-up

A build-up of earwax in your ear can cause:

These problems will usually get better once the build up of earwax has been removed.

What to do if you think your ear is blocked

Do not try to remove a build-up of earwax yourself with your fingers, a cotton bud or any other object. This can damage your ear and push the wax further down.

Try eardrops

If the earwax is only causing minor problems, you can try buying some eardrops from a pharmacy. Using drops may make your hearing or symptoms a little worse at first before getting better. These can help soften the earwax so that it falls out naturally.

There are several different types of eardrops you can use, including drops containing:

  • sodium bicarbonate
  • olive oil
  • almond oil

Eardrops aren’t suitable for everyone and some can irritate the skin. You shouldn’t use eardrops if you have a hole or tear in your eardrum.

Speak to your pharmacist about the right product for you and make sure you read the leaflet that comes with it.

When to get medical advice

Speak to your GP practice if:

  • you’re worried about your symptoms
  • eardrops haven’t helped after 1 week

Diagnosing earwax build up

Your GP or practice nurse will look inside your ears to check if they’re blocked. They might carry out some simple hearing tests.

Treatments to remove earwax

If pharmacy treatment doesn’t work, speak to your GP practice.

Treatments may include:

  • ear irrigation – a quick and painless procedure where an electric pump is used to push water into your ear and wash the earwax out
  • microsuction – a quick and painless procedure where a small device is used to suck the earwax out of your ear (you may need to be referred for this)

These treatments are not suitable for everyone. Your doctor can discuss this with you.

If these treatments don’t help, your GP may refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist.

What causes a build up of earwax?

Some people regularly get blocked ears because they naturally produce a lot of earwax.

Other causes include:

  • producing naturally hard or dry earwax
  • having narrow or hairy ear canals (the tube between the opening of the ear and the eardrum)
  • being elderly, as earwax becomes drier with age
  • bony growths in the outer part of the ear canal

Earwax can also block your ear if you often insert objects into your ear, such as cotton buds, ear plugs or hearing aids.

Last updated:
02 May 2024

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