What is ear wax?

Ear wax, also called cerumen, can be an annoyance, but it helps to protect your ears from bacteria, dirt, microbes, and other foreign particles. A healthy amount of ear wax is essential to maintain a clean environment in the ear. Ear wax also provides lubrication, keeps the area moist, and protects the ear canal from water.

Ear Problems Spotlight

The body’s natural system of ear wax disposal is a self-sustaining process, in which old wax dries and flakes off near the opening of the ear. Sometimes excess wax is produced and can harden, blocking the ear. A buildup of wax is a common cause of hearing loss. Cleaning inside the ear or attempting to remove ear wax yourself with a cotton swab often causes the wax to lodge deeper in the ear canal and may worsen the symptoms related to excess ear wax.

Ear wax is usually not a cause for concern, but excessive wax blockage can affect hearing or indicate a serious condition. Seek prompt medical care for serious symptoms, including fever, fluid draining from the ear, loss of hearing, or severe ear pain.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of ear wax?

Symptoms of ear wax blockage include a feeling of fullness or a sensation of something in your ear. Your hearing may also be muffled by the obstruction.... Read more about ear waxsymptoms

CAUSES

What causes ear wax?

Cerumen, or ear wax, is produced by oil glands and hair follicles in the ear canal. The function of ear wax is to trap dirt, bacteria, and other potentially harmful invaders and to protect the ear canal. Some people produce more ear wax than others; it is not known if this is hereditary or linked to any other cause. Although this is not harmful, an excessive buildup can affect your hearing and should be removed.... Read more about ear waxcauses

TREATMENTS

How is ear wax treated?

Blockage that persists may require a visit to a health care professional, such as an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor) or primary care physician. He or she may apply suction or use a microscope and a curette (small instrument that fits in the ear) to remove the obstacle.... Read more about ear waxtreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Ear, Nose and Throat


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