earwax build up in your ears

How does earwax build up in your ears?

Earwax is produced by our ear canals and is a natural occurrence that we should let run its course, as it usually falls out on its own. However, a build-up of earwax can become problematic and lead to a range of health issues.

Here is a guide on how ear wax builds up in your ears and what you can do to prevent earwax build-up.

What is earwax build-up?

Earwax itself is formed by the glands of your outer ear canal, creating a waxy oil named cerumen. Tiny hairs on these glands and the wax protect the ears from things such as dust and germs from entering the ear opening.

Despite what people may think, earwax helps to keep your ears clean and acts as a protective barrier against bacteria and even water to stop it from entering past the ear canals and damaging the eardrums.

Earwax is usually washed away when you shower, or it naturally falls out as it is replaced by new earwax, but there is always the chance that it is not fully cleaned out properly.

Earwax build-up happens when there is excess earwax that leads to earwax blockage due to poor methods in trying to remove earwax.

How does it build up?

Earwax builds up in your outer ear canal, but some people may naturally produce more earwax than others, resulting in excess earwax.

Earwax build-up can also occur as a result of home methods that inadvertently push the earwax deeper into the ears. In the meantime, earwax is still being produced in the outer ear canals, causing the earwax to accumulate.  

In addition to this, those who produce naturally dry earwax are susceptible to earwax build-up, particularly elderly people who tend to produce drier earwax.

People who may be prone to earwax build-up include those with:

  • Skin conditions affecting the ear or scalp
  • A small or damaged ear canal
  • A surplus of hair in the ear canal
  • An inflammation of the ear canal

If you frequently use earphones or ear plugs, you are probably likelier to experience earwax build-up as they stop earwax from falling naturally out of the ears.

Similarly, inserting items such as cotton buds, despite what many people mistakenly believe to be their purpose, may prove to be more harmful than good for your ears. Research has shown that in children between 1980 and 2010, 73% of cotton swabs ear injuries were related to ear cleaning.

The following signs and symptoms may be a result of earwax build-up:

  • Hearing loss
  • Earache
  • Tinnitus (hearing ringing or noises)
  • Itchiness

These symptoms usually subside once the earwax build-up has been removed. However, if left untreated, it can lead to infection, which calls for more serious attention. You should consult with your GP or doctor if you start to experience any of the following:

  • Vertigo or dizziness
  • Severe ear pain
  • Fever
  • Odour emanating from the ear
  • Ear drainage
  • Coughing

Some symptoms may indicate other conditions, so it is always a good idea to contact your GP if you are experiencing earwax build-up or blockage alongside these symptoms.

How to prevent earwax build-up

Although earwax clears up on its own, if you notice excess earwax in your ears, here are some safe ways for you to try to prevent earwax build-up:

  • Clean your ears regularly – cleaning your ears with warm water should be sufficient in removing excess earwax.
  • Avoid cotton buds or similar products – do not ever insert cotton swabs inside your ears! Whilst they may be fine for cleaning your outer ear area, it is not recommended to insert them further into your ears as this may risk accidental eardrum damage and further earwax build-up.
  • Avoid earphones – as mentioned previously, earphones can also potentially cause earwax to build up in your ears, so it is probably best practice to avoid wearing earphones if you naturally produce excess earwax.

What to do if you have excess earwax

If you have found yourself with excess earwax, here are some methods that can help you take care of this:

  • Oils – a few drops of ear-safe oils such as olive oil or coconut oil on a cotton pad that is gently swabbed around your ear (not inside) can help soften the earwax, letting it fall out by itself.
  • Microsuction – if you are looking for a safe way to remove earwax by an expert, microsuction could be the ideal method for you. A specialist will suction out the wax using a small vacuum, and it can even be performed on people with a ruptured eardrum.

If you would like to see a specialist in removing excess earwax, consider microsuction ear wax removal at our London clinic to ensure you are provided with the best earwax removal service available.