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.
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.
Seek Care Today
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms
and arrange for care.
If you cannot reach your doctor or you don’t
have one, seek care today.
If it is evening, watch the symptoms and
seek care in the morning.
Do not try to remove earwax if you have
ear pain or a discharge that looks different than earwax, if you think you
have a ruptured eardrum, if you have had ear surgery, or if
you have tubes in your ears.
Soften and loosen the earwax with warm mineral
oil or a mixture of hydrogen peroxide mixed with an equal amount of room-temperature water. Place 2 drops of the fluid, warmed to body temperature, in
the ear twice a day for up to 5 days. Be sure to warm the fluid because cold
fluid can cause pain and dizziness.
Once the wax is loose and soft,
all that is usually needed to remove it from the ear canal is a gentle, warm
shower. Direct the water into the ear, then tip your head to let the earwax
drain out. Dry your ear thoroughly with a hair dryer set on low. Hold the dryer
several inches (centimeters) from your
If the warm mineral oil and shower don’t work, use a
nonprescription wax softener. Read and follow all instructions on the label. After using the wax softener, use an ear syringe to gently flush the ear. Make sure the flushing solution is body
temperature. Cool or hot fluids in the ear can cause dizziness.
not use cotton swabs, bobby pins, or other objects to clean the
Do not use a dental irrigation device,
such as a Water Pik, to remove earwax. The force of the water injures the ear
canal and ruptures the eardrum.
Do not use ear candles. They have no proven benefit in the removal of earwax and can
cause serious injury.
Other symptoms develop, such as ear
pain, hearing loss, ringing in the ears, dizziness, severe itching, or
bad-smelling discharge from the ear.
Symptoms become more severe or
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
You can keep earwax soft by inserting a few drops
of mineral oil or hydrogen peroxide mixed with warm water into your
Do not use cotton swabs, bobby pins, or other substances to
Try not to get water, soap, or shampoo in your ear
canal when you shower. Keep soap, bubble bath, and shampoo out of the ear
canal. These products can cause itching and irritation.
When you rinse your hair, keep your head down
with your chin toward your chest or pull the outside of your ear down over the
After swimming or showering, shake your head to remove
water from the ear canal.
Gently dry your ears with the corner of a
tissue or towel, or use a blow-dryer on its lowest setting. Hold the dryer
several inches (centimeters) from your
Put a few drops of rubbing alcohol or rubbing alcohol mixed
with an equal amount of white vinegar into the ear after swimming or showering.
Wiggle the outside of the ear to let the liquid enter the ear canal, then tilt
your head and let it drain out. You can also use nonprescription drops to keep the inside of your ear dry.
ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP – Emergency Medicine Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine E. Gregory Thompson, MD – Internal Medicine Specialist Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD – Family Medicine