Ear pain can be quite common, especially in children, who are more susceptible to ear infections than adults. However, infections aren’t the only reason for ear pain, which can be hard to pinpoint or identify. Until you’ve been diagnosed and treated for cerumen impaction — earwax buildup — you may be surprised by how much trouble this minor issue can cause.

You can’t effectively clear earwax blockages yourself. Your best solution is an examination and cerumen removal with Hearing & Balance Services of Reston.

Your ears’ protector

Cerumen is a secretion from glands in the outer portion of your ear canal. In combination with ear hairs, the waxy cerumen keeps dirt and foreign objects from penetrating further, where they could damage your eardrum or cause infections. Excess cerumen usually falls out of your ears or is pushed out by new production and by movements of your jaw when eating or talking.

For most people, their ears are self-cleaning, needing little attention. However, some people produce more cerumen than others, which can cause buildups of earwax. Perhaps the most common reason for blockages, though, comes from patients using swabs to try to clean their ears. Instead of removing excess cerumen, they push some deeper into the ear canal, where it won’t fall out on its own. With time, you can pack in even more earwax until the blockage causes symptoms.

About 5% of children and 10% of adults experience impacted cerumen, and it’s more common in people who wear hearing aids or earplugs for hearing protection.

Signs you have a cerumen buildup

If you have ear pain caused by excess earwax, you may have other symptoms of the blockage too. Most obvious is hearing changes. It may be harder to understand voices, which sound muffled and less distinct on the same side as your earache. Your ear could feel full or blocked, and you may notice this especially when you move your jaw.

You can experience phantom sounds in your head called tinnitus, which is often described as “ringing,” but it may sound more like an electrical hum or buzzing. Your ear might feel itchy, or your balance could be affected, causing dizziness. The cerumen buildup may also be the reason you have a chronic cough. Generally, most people have one or two symptoms with impacted cerumen.

Treating earwax blockages

It’s important to remind you that you can’t remove impacted earwax yourself. It requires a trained professional using special equipment designed for this purpose. It’s easy to make a wax blockage worse by trying to clear it yourself with swabs or other objects.

Typically, irrigation or curettage is the go-to treatment methods for cerumen removal. Of the two, irrigation with a medicated solution is more common, but manual removal aided by gentle suction is sometimes a better choice.

Have your ears checked regularly for wax blockages, particularly if you wear hearing aids or use earplug-style hearing protection. You can contact Hearing & Balance Services of Reston and book your appointment today.