The key to optimal ear health lies in education and regular checkups.

An Expert Guide to Earwax Buildup Management

by | Sep 18, 2023 | Earwax, Patient Resources

Earwax, while a natural and essential part of ear health, can become a problem when it accumulates excessively, especially for hearing aid users.

Excess earwax can not only impact your hearing but also interfere with the performance of your hearing aids.

Below are some typical symptoms you might experience if you have an earwax buildup affecting your hearing aids:

What Are the Typical Symptoms of Earwax Buildup?

1. Reduced or Distorted Sound Quality:
One of the earliest signs of earwax buildup is a change in sound quality from your hearing aid. The accumulation of earwax can obstruct the sound from efficiently reaching the microphone, leading to diminished or distorted sound.
2. Volume Fluctuations:
Excess earwax can also be the culprit behind inconsistent volume levels. You may notice that the sound from your hearing aid unpredictably becomes louder or softer.
3. Feedback or Whistling Noises:
A common annoyance with earwax buildup is the occurrence of feedback or whistling noises. These can happen intermittently or persistently if the earwax obstructs the hearing aid’s sound outlet.
5. Itching or Irritation:
Alongside these types of physical discomfort, you may also experience itching or irritation within your ear canal. This could lead you to frequently adjust or remove your hearing aid, offering only temporary relief.
6. Reduced Hearing or Difficulty in Understanding Speech:
One of the most critical results of earwax buildup is diminished hearing capabilities. Excessive earwax can block the auditory pathway, making it difficult to understand speech even when you’re wearing your hearing aid.
If you’re encountering any of the symptoms outlined above, it’s crucial to take action promptly. Ignoring these signs can lead to more severe issues, including hearing loss or damage to your hearing aid. We highly recommend that you consult a healthcare professional or audiologist for a thorough examination and appropriate cleaning of both your hearing aid and ear canal.

By being proactive in addressing the signs of earwax buildup, you’ll not only preserve the functionality of your hearing aids but also maintain optimal ear health.

Frequency of Earwax Checks: When and Why?

The frequency with which one should check for earwax buildup varies from person to person, as some people are naturally more prone to excessive earwax production.

General Guidelines:

General Guidelines:

As a general rule of thumb, it’s advisable to check for earwax buildup every six to 12 months. Those who are prone to excessive wax production or have a history of earwax blockages might need more frequent checks.

Signs to Watch For:

Signs to Watch For:

Symptoms such as reduced hearing, itching, ear pain, or a feeling of fullness in the ear warrant immediate checks, irrespective of when you last had your ears examined for earwax.

For Hearing Aid Users:

For Hearing Aid Users:

If you use hearing aids, remember that regular cleaning and maintenance are vital to prevent earwax accumulation within the devices themselves. At ZN Audiology, we offer video otoscopy during our quarterly follow-up visits with our hearing aid patients. If professional ear cleaning is required, we perform it right in our office.

A Cautionary Tale: Ignoring Earwax Buildup Can Have Consequences

We recently had a case that highlights the importance of regular earwax checks. A patient came in complaining of progressive hearing loss over several months, which was severely affecting his quality of life. Initial video otoscopy revealed completely occluded ear canals in both ears, and further testing confirmed no movement of the tympanic membrane.

Our audiologists performed professional earwax removal, leading to an immediate and significant improvement in the patient’s hearing. Audiometric evaluation confirmed the restoration of normal hearing in both ears.

The Impact:

The resolution had a profound impact on the patient’s life. After months of struggling with hearing loss, he was finally able to fully participate in conversations, enjoy music, and be alert to important environmental sounds.

The experience was a wake-up call, making him more diligent about regular ear checks. He now avoids the use of cotton swabs for earwax removal and schedules regular checkups with us.

DIY Earwax Management: Temporary Measures Until You Can See a Professional

So, what can you do if you suspect you have excess earwax but can’t immediately see a healthcare professional? While self-care measures aren’t a substitute for professional evaluation and treatment, they can provide temporary relief. Here’s a step-by-step guide for those tricky situations.

Dos and Don’ts:

1. Avoid Cotton Swabs:
While it may be tempting to use cotton swabs to clean the ears, this is a big no-no. Cotton swabs can push earwax farther into the ear canal and can cause potential damage.
2. Over-the-Counter Solutions:
Earwax removal drops available at pharmacies can be a first-aid step. These solutions are generally made from mineral oil, hydrogen peroxide, or water-based solutions and are designed to soften the earwax.
3. Application Tips:
To apply removal drops, tilt the affected ear upward and instill a few drops of the earwax removal solution. Gently pull on the earlobe in different directions to help the solution penetrate deeper. Make sure to read and follow the product’s instructions carefully.
4. Draining:
After allowing the solution to sit for a few minutes, tilt your head downward, letting the softened earwax and excess solution drain onto a towel or tissue.
5. Clean Up:
Use a warm, damp cloth to gently clean the external ear and remove any visible earwax residue.
Words of Caution:

These measures are temporary and might not completely alleviate your symptoms. If you experience persistent symptoms, worsening conditions, or severe discomfort, it’s imperative to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Medical professionals can conduct a thorough examination, provide a definitive diagnosis, and administer effective treatment for excess earwax or any other underlying ear conditions.

The Interplay Between Hearing Aids and Earwax: What You Need to Know

If you’re a hearing aid user, earwax buildup isn’t just an inconvenience—it can seriously impact the performance of your device. The intricate relationship between earwax and hearing aids requires special attention.

Below are some essential guidelines that every hearing aid user should follow to maintain optimal ear health and device performance.

Essential Tips for Hearing Aid Users:

1. Daily Cleaning:
Every day, take a moment to clean your hearing aids with a soft, dry cloth or specialized cleaning tool. Your audiologist will be able to recommend suitable tools. This daily practice helps remove accumulated wax and debris.
2. The "No Insertion" Rule:
It might be tempting to dig out bothersome earwax with cotton swabs or bobby pins, but resist the urge. This can push the earwax farther into the ear canal and potentially damage sensitive ear structures.
3. Hygiene Matters:
Clean the outer ear gently with mild soap and water during your regular hygiene routine, making sure to avoid letting water enter the ear canal.
4. Be Symptom Alert:
Keep an eye out for symptoms like reduced sound quality, feedback noises, or physical discomfort in the ears. These could be red flags indicating that you need a professional ear cleaning.
5. Regular Auditory Checkups:
It’s vital to have your ears and hearing aids professionally checked on a regular basis. Your audiologist or hearing healthcare provider can inspect for earwax buildup and offer professional cleanings if needed.
6. When in Doubt, Consult a Professional:
Experiencing symptoms or suspect excessive earwax? Don’t hesitate to consult your audiologist or healthcare provider. They possess the necessary tools and expertise to safely and effectively deal with any earwax issues
By taking these preventative steps and remaining vigilant, you can maintain the efficiency and longevity of your hearing aids. Remember, proactive ear care can make a significant difference in your hearing experience, so make it a priority in your regular healthcare routine.

Medical Conditions That Mimic Earwax Buildup: What You Need to Know

If you’re experiencing symptoms like reduced hearing, ear pain, or a feeling of fullness in your ears, you might assume it’s due to earwax buildup.

However, it’s essential to recognize that several medical conditions can present these symptoms, making a thorough evaluation by a healthcare professional crucial for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Conditions to Consider:

1. Outer Ear Infections:
Symptoms like ear pain, reduced hearing, and ear fullness can closely resemble earwax buildup. An infection, however, might also include additional symptoms such as ear drainage, redness, or swelling. An expert diagnosis is necessary to distinguish between an infection and earwax buildup.
2. Eustachian Tube Dysfunction:
The Eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the back of your throat. When it malfunctions, it can cause symptoms like ear pressure, muffled hearing, and a sensation of fullness. A healthcare provider can help pinpoint whether this condition or earwax buildup is responsible for your symptoms.
3. Middle Ear Fluid Accumulation:
Known as otitis media with effusion, this condition can also lead to symptoms similar to those caused by earwax buildup, like reduced hearing and a feeling of fullness in the ear. Tests like tympanometry can help identify the presence of middle ear fluid.
4. Sensorineural Hearing Loss:
This type of hearing loss stems from damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve and can include symptoms like reduced hearing, difficulty understanding speech, and tinnitus. An audiologist can conduct a comprehensive evaluation to determine the underlying cause.
The Evaluation Process

When you consult with a healthcare professional such as an audiologist or an ENT specialist, you should expect a thorough examination. This will likely include otoscopy to inspect the ear canal and eardrum, hearing tests, and potentially other diagnostic procedures. This comprehensive evaluation will help distinguish conditions that mimic earwax buildup from actual earwax issues.

Whether you’re dealing with an infection, tube dysfunction, or some other issue, it’s crucial to identify the root cause of your symptoms for effective treatment. When in doubt, always consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan.

Recommended Resources for Learning About Earwax and Ear Care

If you’re interested in diving deeper into the subject of earwax management and proper ear care, there are various trustworthy resources available to help you expand your knowledge. Here’s where to start:

1. Personal Consultation With a Healthcare Professional
For specific concerns or questions, your best source of information is a qualified healthcare professional, such as an audiologist or an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist. These experts can provide personalized guidance, advice, and additional resources tailored to your particular needs.
2. Audiology and ENT Professional Organizations
Renowned organizations like the American Academy of Audiology and the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery are excellent places to find reliable information. Their websites often have dedicated patient education sections that offer materials and guidelines concerning earwax and general ear care.
3. Hearing Healthcare Provider Websites
Clinics and practices specializing in audiology often offer free educational resources on their websites. These could include informative blog posts, articles, or even downloadable brochures dedicated to earwax management and ear care.

While these resources can offer valuable information, it’s crucial to remember that they should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan tailored to your individual situation.

By leveraging these resources, you can equip yourself with the knowledge you need to take better care of your ears and potentially improve your hearing and overall well-being.

Next Steps: Unlock Better Ear Health Today!

Understanding earwax—its functions, potential issues, and proper management—can go a long way in preserving your hearing and overall ear health. Whether you’re someone who’s prone to earwax buildup or a hearing aid user eager to maximize your device’s functionality, being educated about earwax is crucial.

From recognizing the symptoms of excessive earwax to distinguishing it from other similar conditions, taking steps now can pave the way for a lifetime of clear hearing and well-being. Don’t let ignorance about this often-overlooked aspect of health impede your quality of life.

What Can You Do Next?

  1. Consult a Healthcare Provider: For personalized advice tailored to your specific needs, make an appointment with an audiologist or ENT specialist.
  2. Stay Educated: Visit the websites of trusted sources like the American Academy of Audiology and other professional organizations for guidelines and materials related to ear health.
  3. Book Regular Checkups: Don’t underestimate the importance of regular evaluations, especially if you are experiencing symptoms or are a hearing aid user.
Discover Clear Hearing
So why wait? Take control of your ear health today and lay the foundation for a life of clear conversations, enjoyable music, and the beautiful sounds of nature.

Take Action Now!

Start your journey toward better ear health by consulting a professional at ZN Audiology. If you’ve been putting it off, there’s no better time than now.

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Zarina Naizam, AuD, CCC-A

Zarina Naizam, AuD, CCC-A, is a licensed clinical audiologist practicing in New York State. With a Bachelor of Science Degree in pre-med from Long Island University and a Clinical Doctorate in Audiology from Salus University, Dr. Naizam specializes in adult and pediatric hearing testing, as well as the fitting, programming, and repairing of all makes and models of hearing aids. She holds a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Audiology from the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association and is a Fellow of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology. Driven by personal experience, witnessing the impact of hearing impairment on her mother's life, Dr. Naizam became inspired to improve the lives of others through better hearing. Her passion lies in helping patients restore their ability to connect with their loved ones, recognizing the emotional impact of hearing loss on individuals and their families. To stay up-to-date with advancements in technology, she regularly attends seminars and workshops.