Until it becomes a problem, many people never give earwax much thought. Produced by glands in the middle of the ear canal, earwax — medically known as cerumen — traps dirt and foreign bodies, slowly working its way out of the ear.

For those who wear ear plugs or hearing aids, it’s not uncommon for these to push earwax deeper into the ear, where it can’t make its way out. Improper cleaning of your ears can also create this issue. Earwax blockages can cause temporary hearing loss, dizziness, and uncomfortable pressure.

With caution, there are ways to clean your ears and even clear minor wax blockages. If you’re unsure, make an appointment with the team at Hearing & Balance Services of Reston. They’re cerumen removal specialists, and they can safely clear your ear canals in a short office visit.

Signs you have an earwax blockage

It’s not always easy to know your ear is plugged with wax. Because earwax accumulates slowly, your brain adapts to your changing hearing, which might otherwise be a reliable symptom. The sudden appearance of tinnitus is perhaps a more reliable indicator, though it’s also a symptom of other conditions or a reaction to medication.

The presence of an earwax blockage can create the sensation that your ear is plugged, like a water blockage after swimming. Earwax can also cause:

  • Earache
  • Dizziness
  • Pressure in the ear
  • Coughing
  • Itchiness
  • Discharge from the ear canal
  • Odor

None of these symptoms are unique to earwax blockages, so unless you’re certain the problem is due to wax, make an appointment to have your ears checked for a more serious issue.

Safely cleaning your ears

Normally, earwax works to the outer end of the ear canal, pushed out by new wax production and the motion created by jaw movement. While many people use cotton swabs to clean their ears, these should only be used on the outer part of the ear, never inserted into the ear canal. Doing so can push wax deeper, even if it appears you’re removing some wax.

Preventing wax buildup

Help the natural migration of earwax out of the ear by using a warm, wet washcloth to clean the outer ear. This should be all you need to aid the shedding of earwax.

If you have a blockage

The waxy nature of cerumen resists water, but it will soften in contact with other substances, some of which you may already have in your medicine cabinet. Common wax softeners include:

  • Mineral oil
  • Baby oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil
  • Glycerin
  • Hydrogen peroxide, 3% solution
  • Baking soda solution, ½ teaspoon dissolved in 2 ounces of water

Use several drops of any of these softeners in your ears once or twice daily, 5-10 minutes at a time. Most earwax blockages will soften in a day or two, migrating out of the ear. You can also flush your ear with a bulb of warm water to clean away the softening substance and to help the blockage move. Warm water alone may be enough for minor blockages, but the use of a softener generally produces faster results.

If you don’t see results in 10 to 14 days, contact Hearing & Balance Services of Reston for cerumen removal. You’ll feel — and hear — better after a visit.