ear wax build-up

Can ear infections be caused by wax build-up?

It can be easy for many of us to imagine that an accumulation of wax in our ears – or “cerumen impaction”, to give its medical name – might not be too much more than an annoyance or inconvenience.

And of course, no one denies that earwax build-up certainly can be very annoying. Symptoms such as feelings of fullness, pain, and itchiness in your ear, and potentially a ringing sound (tinnitus) and even discharge or odour from your ears, are likely to have you quickly researching options for ear wax removal in Kent (or wherever you happen to be).

What you might not have realised, however, is that the build-up of wax in your ears could – if left untreated – eventually lead to somewhat more serious consequences. In the most extreme cases, there could even be a risk of full hearing loss in the ear, or worse.

But we’ll explain all that further at a later point in this article. To begin with, let’s delve into the subject of how ear infections are associated with ear wax build-up.

Can ear wax removal help ear infection?

There can sometimes be confusion as to whether ear infections lead to earwax build-up, or earwax build-up can lead to ear infections; the short answer is that both scenarios can happen.

According to the non-profit Los Angeles healthcare organisation Cedars-Sinai, infectious disease can indeed lead to an accumulation of wax in the ear, with the hospital citing the example of the condition known as “swimmer’s ear” (external otitis).

That particular bacterial infection typically arises as a consequence of water having remained in the outer ear canal for a prolonged period of time, thereby providing the moist conditions that lend themselves to bacteria thriving.

Looking again at Cedars-Sinai’s guidance, the institution also cites the likes of skin disease (such as eczema) and autoimmune disease (for example, lupus) as potential causes of earwax build-up.

With all this in mind, it stands to reason that having any excess earwax removed from your ear could be instrumental in tackling any existing infection in your ear, at the same time as minimising the risk of future ear infections.

You might, though, initially be unsure as to what remedies would work best for this. Some people who worry about earwax build-up may first research possible home remedies, such as the use of a few drops of olive oil.

Sure enough, as the Healthline website points out, olive oil does have a reputation as a longstanding traditional remedy for the removal of earwax and the treatment of infections.

But as the same site also outlined, despite olive oil having some antibacterial properties, it is uncertain whether it kills the specific forms of bacteria responsible for ear infections. So, we wouldn’t advise you to depend on it as your sole method for removing earwax and combatting an ear infection.

Can ear infection cause wax build-up?

As we explained above, ear infection can certainly be a cause of wax build-up, as in the case of otitis externa, or “swimmer’s ear”. This condition is associated with such symptoms as ear pain, itchiness in the ear canal, and liquid or pus discharge from the ear – perhaps even some temporary hearing loss.

If those symptoms sound like ones you are experiencing right now, it is advisable to go and see your GP. That is especially so as the condition can potentially linger for months or longer, and you won’t want to risk potential complications such as the build-up of thick and dry skin inside your ear canal.  

In the event, however, that you do seem to have earwax build-up co-existing with an ear infection, it’s worth remembering that the cerumen impaction might have led to the infection, instead of the situation being the other way round.

You may have developed an accumulation of wax in your ear due to having a narrow ear canal, for example, or a lot of ear hair. The frequent wearing of earplugs or hearing aids can also heighten the risk of earwax build-up occurring.

In other cases, the exact cause of earwax build-up isn’t known. But regardless of whether you know or suspect a specific cause of your earwax build-up, once you start to see the signs (such as earache or tinnitus), it is important to take action to stop the problem from getting worse.

How do you know if you have an ear infection or wax build-up?

The below are classic indicators that you could be suffering from an impaction of earwax:

  • Your ear feels “full”
  • You feel pain in your ear
  • You’re experiencing ringing in your ear (tinnitus)
  • Your ear is itchy
  • There is odour or discharge coming from your ears
  • You feel dizzy

Throughout this article, we have emphasised that earwax accumulation and ear infection can be related in various ways. One reason why you need to act if you do experience symptoms like the aforementioned, is because earwax build-up can heighten the chances of a new infection in your ear.

Indeed, in normal circumstances, earwax plays an instrumental role in protecting the ear from infection, due to the acidic environment it helps to create in the ear canal. This, in turn, kills bacteria.

In situations, however, where earwax doesn’t move out of the ear in the usual natural way, and therefore remains in the ear for longer, this can lead to foreign bodies and bacteria being harboured in the ear, with an associated greater infection risk.

Those who get ear infections frequently, or who suffer from a particularly severe ear infection, could be at risk of developing the serious infection known as mastoiditis, which affects the mastoid bone behind the ear.

In extreme cases of mastoiditis, where antibiotics don’t work and surgery to remove the mastoid bone or drain the middle ear isn’t performed sufficiently quickly, there could even be a risk of the affected ear suffering from full hearing loss, or of additional life-threatening complications such as brain abscess or blood clots.

So, you really shouldn’t be dismissive of earwax build-up, given that – even though it may seem a relatively minor issue at first – it could present an elevated risk of more serious problems later.

If ear microsuction is an option you have considered as a means of banishing your excess earwax, and you live in proximity of our own private earwax removal clinic in Falconwood Pharmacy, Welling, why not reach out to us today to find out more about this treatment?