How to Prevent Earwax Buildup?

Posted on April 24, 2024 by John Beharrell
How to Prevent Earwax Buildup?

Earwax, although essential to our ear health, can become problematic when it builds up excessively and can often cause problems such as hearing loss, earache or tinnitus. 

Why do we need earwax?

Earwax performs a vital role for our ear health by forming a barrier against dirt, debris and insects, preventing them from reaching the eardrum. Ear wax also moisturises the ear canal, helping to reduce dryness and irritation, it also contains antibacterial properties.

Can our ears naturally clear earwax?

Our ears are designed to naturally expel earwax, as the skin lining your ear canals grows in an outward spiral pattern, slowly pushing earwax (along with any trapped dirt or debris) away from the eardrum towards the outer ear. Subtle movement of the jaw when we chew or talk can also help to dislodge earwax.

When old earwax and debris reaches the outer ear, it dries up and naturally flakes off, often while you’re sleeping or in the shower. Despite this, it is common for earwax to build up sufficiently to cause a blockage.

Recognising the Signs of Earwax Build-up 

Recognising the signs of earwax build-up can help you identify potential problems early and enable you to take action before the issue becomes worse. Some common issues are: 

  • Hearing loss: Blocked ear canals can muffle sounds, making it harder to hear.
  • Earache: Pressure from the wax can cause discomfort and pain.
  • Tinnitus: Ringing or buzzing noises in the ear might be present due to the blockage.
  • Fullness: A clogged sensation within the ear canal is common with an ear wax blockage.
  • Itchiness: Ear wax build-up can irritate the delicate ear canal skin.
  • Infections: In severe cases, a build-up can trap moisture and bacteria, which could lead to ear infections.

Importance of early detection and prevention

Early detection and prevention of ear wax build-up, which may become impacted, can significantly reduce the risk of experiencing the discomfort and problems which come with blocked ears, such as hearing loss, ear pain, tinnitus and itchiness. When we recognise and act upon the early symptoms of earwax build-up we are safeguarding our future hearing health.

How to prevent earwax build-up?

There are many simple ways which can effectively help to prevent excessive ear wax build-up such as:

Avoid inserting anything into the ear: Inserting cotton buds and ear wax removal tools in to your ear (or even using your fingernails) can actually push earwax deeper into the ear canal, potentially causing impaction and damage to the delicate skin lining the canal, which may also increase the risk of infection.

Use ear drops: Over-the-counter ear drops (including olive oil drops) can help soften earwax, allowing it to move out of the ear canal naturally. However, it is important to consult a healthcare professional before using ear drops regularly, especially if you have any pre-existing or reoccurring ear problems.

Learn: How do earwax removal drops work?

Dry your ears: After showering or swimming, gently dry your outer ears with a soft towel, as trapped water and moisture can hinder the natural migration of ear wax and promote bacterial growth which may lead to infection.

Diet and Ear Wax Build-Up

Research into links between diet, hydration and earwax production are currently limited, however there are some potential connections and important considerations. For example, some studies suggest that high dairy intake, in some individuals, might be associated with stickier earwax, potentially increasing the risk of build-up.

Does Hydration have an impact on ear wax production?

Adequate hydration is crucial for overall health, including maintaining healthy mucous membranes throughout the body, including those in the ear that are connected to the ear canal. While not conclusive, some research does suggests that dehydration might be associated with thicker earwax, which could potentially result in earwax blockages.

Lifestyle Habits and Earwax Build-up

Earwax, though beneficial in small amounts, can become troublesome when it builds up excessively. While some factors like genetics play a role, your lifestyle habits also influence how much earwax you produce and how efficiently your ears can naturally clear wax. Contributors to earwax build-up include:

  • Frequent use of headphones and earbuds: Dust, debris and wax can be trapped and pushed further into the ear and restrict the natural clearing of the ears. Regular use of headphones and ear buds may also irritate the ear canal, stimulating more wax production.
  • Exposure to dust and pollutants: Dusty environments, smoking, and working in polluted areas can  trigger the body’s defence mechanism in the ear, which can lead to excessive earwax production and an increase in the amount of dust and debris in the ear.
  • Improper cleaning methods: Using cotton buds or other objects to clean your ears can actually push wax further into the ear, causing impaction and possible damage to the ear.

A Regular, Safe Ear-Cleaning Routine Can Help

Establishing a regular, safe and effective ear-cleaning routine can help maintain healthy ears and reduce earwax build up. Gentle, safe practices include using warm water and a washcloth after showering or swimming to gently wipe the outer ear to remove any visible wax or debris and drying the outer ear gently with a towel.

If you wear hearing aids, it is useful to wipe your hearing aids every night  using a soft, dry cloth to remove any accumulated earwax, debris and oils. Many hearing aids come with specific cleaning tools, such as brushes or vents to carefully remove earwax from areas your cloth might not reach.  Keeping your hearing aids in their case when not in use, and storing them in a cool, dry place is also recommended.

Our ears are delicate and require careful attention, so safety is always a top priority and seeking professional guidance from an Audiologist or Ear Care Specialist if our ears feel blocked or we are struggling to hear, is the best way to maintain our hearing health.

When to Seek Help from a Healthcare Professional

When our ears are blocked with wax, professional advice and treatment is essential. Here are some key signs that indicate when you may need to see a healthcare professional for earwax removal:

Hearing Loss: A noticeable and persistent decrease in your hearing ability, potentially accompanied by a feeling of fullness or muffled sounds, can be a sign of earwax build-up blocking the ear canal.

Earache: Persistent pain or discomfort in one or both ears can be caused by earwax build-up pressing against the eardrum.

Tinnitus: Ringing or buzzing noises in your ears can be a symptom of earwax build-up affecting the eardrum’s ability to vibrate properly.

Discharge from the ear: If you notice any discharge, especially pus or blood, coming from your ear, it could indicate an ear infection and requires prompt medical attention as prescription medication is often required before professional ear wax removal can be provided.

Itchiness: Excessive itching within the ear canal can be a symptom of irritation caused by earwax buildup or an underlying issue like eczema.

Previous ear problems: If you have a history of ear infections, perforated eardrums, or other ear problems, consult a healthcare professional if you experience any signs of earwax buildup.

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional, qualified to assess and determine the cause of your symptoms and recommend the most appropriate and safe and effective earwax removal options for you. Interhearing clinics are led by fully qualified, experienced ear care specialists offering professional, safe microsuction ear wax removal and can help you to quickly resolve any earwax blockages. For more information visit our website or call us free on 0800 002 9503.

Home Remedies for Earwax Removal

While it may be tempting to address earwax build-up at home, it’s also important to understand that most home remedies are not recommended by ear care professionals and may even be dangerous. Many at home remedies are ineffective and some may impact wax further, cause damage to the ear and increase the risk of infection. 

Under the guidance of a healthcare professional, specific types of ear drops may be successful in softening the wax for natural removal, however this method is not suitable for everyone, is not always effective and can cause irritation to the ear canal. 

In summary

Ear wax build-up is a common occurrence, especially for those of us who regularly use earbuds, headphones or hearing aids, yet there are some steps you can take to help prevent difficult, impacted ear blockages. Remembering to avoid pushing anything into the ear (including cotton buds) to remove wax and instead opting for a regular, gentle ear-cleaning routine can really help. Knowing the signs of ear wax build up,so that you can consult a healthcare professional for early advice regarding safe, effective treatment such as microsuction, will also help to avoid many of the problems associated with excessive earwax build-up.