Earwax blockage occurs when earwax (cerumen) accumulates in your ear or becomes too hard to wash away naturally. Earwax is a helpful and natural part of your body's defenses. It cleans, lubricates and protects your ear canal by trapping dirt and slowing the growth of bacteria.
Earwax blockage is one of the most common ear problems doctors see. The most common cause of impactions is the use of Q-tips (and other objects such as bobby pins and rolled napkin corners), which can remove superficial wax but also pushes the rest of the wax deeper into the ear canal. Hearing aid and earplug users are also more prone to earwax blockage.
Cerumen accumulation can affect up to 6 percent of the general population and a much higher percentage of persons with cognitive impairment. Excessive or impacted cerumen is present in approximately 1 in 10 children, 1 in 20 adults, and 1 in 3 older adults. In the United States, cerumen accumulation leads to 12 million patient visits and 8 million cerumen removal procedures annually.
• Over-the-counter wax softening drops such as Debrox or Murine may be put into the affected ear and then allowed to drain out after about five minutes while holding the head to the side, allowing the drops to settle. Sitting up again will let the drops drain out by themselves.
• A bulb-type syringe may be used to gently flush the ear with warm water. The water should be at body temperature to help prevent dizziness.
• Ear candling is not recommended. The procedure uses a hollow cone made of paraffin and beeswax with cloth on the tapered end. The tapered end is placed inside the ear, and an assistant lights the other end, while making sure your hair does not catch on fire. In theory, as the flame burns, a vacuum is created, which draws the wax out of the ear. Limited clinical trials, however, showed that no vacuum was created, and no wax was removed. Furthermore, this practice may result in serious injury.