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Earwax is a naturally produced substance that protects the
ear canal. It is a mixture of skin, sweat, hair, and debris (such as shampoo
and dirt) held together with a fluid secreted by glands inside the ear canal
(ceruminous glands). The ear canals are self-cleaning.
helps filter dust, keeps the ears clean, and protects the ear canal from
infection. Normally, earwax is a self-draining liquid that does not cause
problems. As the skin of the ear canal sheds, the wax is carried to the outer
part of the ear canal and drains from the ear by itself.
ranges in color from light to dark brown or orange. In children, earwax is
usually softer and lighter than the earwax produced by adults. Children produce
a lot of earwax, which tapers off as they grow older.
normally produced only in the outer half of the ear canal and will not become
deeply impacted unless it is pushed in. The ear canal may become blocked
(impacted) when attempts to clean the ear with cotton swabs, bobby pins, or a
finger push wax deeply into the ear canal. Impacted earwax may cause some
hearing loss or other problems, such as ringing in the ears (tinnitus), a full
feeling in the ears, or
vertigo. Poking at the wax with cotton swabs, your
fingers, or other objects usually only further compacts the wax against the
Most earwax problems can be handled with home treatment.
Professional help may be needed to remove tightly packed earwax.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Vertigo is the feeling that you or
your surroundings are moving when there is no actual movement. It may feel like
spinning, whirling, or tilting. Vertigo may make you sick to your stomach, and
you may have trouble standing, walking, or keeping your balance.
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.
Do not try to remove
earwax if you have
ear pain or a discharge that looks different than earwax, if you think you
ruptured eardrum, if you have had ear surgery, or if
you have tubes in your ears.
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home
Earwax is a protective substance produced
in the ear canal. It usually flows out of the ear by itself without problems.
In general, the best way to prevent infection or impacted earwax is to leave earwax
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the
Current as of:
June 4, 2014
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
To learn more, visit Healthwise.org
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