Ear wax is a perfectly natural secretion of fats and oils produced in the outer ear. The wax in your ear also contains dead skin, hair and dust and debris from the world outside. All of which is perfectly healthy and normal. Earwax (cerumen) forms a protective coating of the skin in the ear canal. Small amounts are made
the quantity of earwax made varies greatly from person to person.
Earwax is made up of a number of different substances that form a protective coating over the skin that lines the ear canal (the passage between the outer and inner ear), preventing it from drying and cracking.
Earwax has a number of functions – it cleans, lubricates, and protects the lining of your ear, by trapping dirt and repelling water. It is also slightly acidic and has antibacterial properties. Without earwax, the skin inside your ear may become dry, cracked, infected, or waterlogged and sore.
However, earwax can sometimes cause your ear canal to become blocked, leading to pain, or temporary hearing loss. Every year, in the UK, an estimated 2.3 million people have problems with earwax and need to have it removed.
Some people produce an excessive amount of earwax. If you have too much ear wax, the risk of it becoming impacted is increased. This is where the earwax is pushed into your ear canal, for example, by a cotton bud or hearing aid. If this happens, your hearing is likely to become impaired, and the earwax will need to be removed.
Some people form plugs of earwax in their ear canal. This may cause a feeling of fullness and dulled hearing. A hard plug of earwax can also sometimes cause tinnitus (‘ringing in the ear’) or even mild vertigo (a type of dizziness).
A doctor or nurse can look into the ear canal and confirm a plug of earwax has formed. A plug of earwax is not a serious problem, more a nuisance.
The earwax should be removed only if it is causing symptoms such as dulled hearing. Earwax may also need to be removed for fitting of a hearing aid, or if a doctor or nurse needs to examine the ear drum/ middle ear.
Note: Patients should not try to clean the ear canal with cotton wool buds, etc. This can make things worse as they could push some earwax deeper inside. It may also cause an ear infection. So, they should let the ear ‘clean itself’.