The ear canal makes earwax from the canal’s lining. The ears make wax to lubricate and protect the ear canal. The ear canal is the tube that connects the middle ear to the outside of the ear. The wax protects the ear from bacteria, infection, and damage from water or trauma.
The wax that forms in the canal naturally moves toward the outside of the ear and falls out. In some cases, the ear may make too much wax. If the wax causes problems or keeps the healthcare provider from seeing into the ear, the extra wax may be removed.
Too much wax can affect your hearing. It can cause itching. In rare cases, it can be painful. Earwax should not be removed unless it is causing a problem. You should not stick objects into your ear to remove wax unless told to do so by your healthcare provider.
Healthcare providers can remove earwax safely. It is important to stay still during the procedure to avoid damage to the ear canal. But removing earwax generally doesn’t hurt. You will not usually need anesthesia or pain medicine when the provider removes the earwax.
A number of conditions lead to earwax buildup. These include some skin problems, a narrow ear canal, or ears that make too much earwax. Using cotton swabs in the canal pushes earwax deeper into the ear and contributes to the buildup of earwax.
The healthcare provider may recommend mineral oil or an over-the-counter eardrop to use at home to soften the earwax. Use these products only if the provider recommends them. Carefully follow the instructions given.
Don’t use mineral oil or OTC eardrops if you might have an ear infection or a ruptured eardrum. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have diabetes or an immune disorder.
Don’t use cotton swabs in your ears. Cotton swabs may push wax deeper into the ear canal or damage the eardrum. Use cotton gauze or a wet washcloth to gently remove wax on the outside of the ear and around the opening to the ear canal.
Don't use any probing device or object such as cotton-tipped swabs or bobby pins to clean the inside of your ears.
Don’t use ear candles to clean your ears. Candling can be dangerous. It can burn the ear canal. It can also make the condition worse instead of better.
Don’t use cold water to rinse the ear. This will make you dizzy. If your provider tells you to rinse your ear, use only warm water or follow his or her instructions.
Check the ear for signs of infection or irritation listed below under When to seek medical advice.
Warm the medicine bottle by rubbing it between your hands for a few minutes.
Lie down on your side, with the affected ear up.
Place the recommended number of drops in the ear. Wet a cotton ball with the medicine. Gently put the cotton ball into the ear opening.
Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as directed.
Call the provider right away if you have:
Ear pain that gets worse
Fever of 100.4F°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider
Worsening wax buildup
Severe pain, dizziness, or nausea
Bleeding from the ear
Signs of irritation from the eardrops, such as burning, stinging, or swelling and tenderness
Foul-smelling fluid draining from the ear
Swelling, redness, or tenderness of the outer ear
Headache, neck pain, or stiff neck
© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.