Your body is usually very good about performing its own routine maintenance. This is true of your ears. Earwax — medically called cerumen — is a substance that forms in the outer ear to keep your ear canal moist and protected. Usually, there’s no need to clean your ears, but sometimes earwax is overproduced, or it doesn’t naturally leave the ear canal in its normal cycle. When an excess of cerumen builds up, it’s time for cleaning by an ear care professional.

Signs of earwax blockage

Without visiting an ear care practice like Hearing & Balance Services of Reston, it can be difficult to know for sure your issue is due to earwax buildup. Most of the symptoms that accompany excess wax can also have other causes, so a visual inspection with a special tool called an otoscope is necessary to confirm and evaluate a wax blockage. Some of the symptoms that may be due to excess earwax include:

  • Coughing
  • Hearing loss in the ear with wax buildup
  • Vertigo, dizziness, or poor balance
  • Earaches
  • Sensation of fullness or plugging of the ear
  • Phantom sounds, called tinnitus

The problems with self-care

Using cotton swabs or other tools to attempt to remove earwax are rarely successful, since the source of the wax is toward the outer part of your ear. Anything that fits into the ear canal is more likely to push wax deeper into the ear and may be a contributing cause of the wax buildup. The motion of your jaw when you speak and chew creates a motion that gently works wax out of your ear.

Not only do cotton swabs press wax deeper, but you run the risk of perforating your eardrum if anything penetrates too far into your ear. Removing too much wax may also compromise the protection that earwax offers. Not only does the sticky cerumen collect dirt and debris, it’s naturally antibacterial as well, protecting you from infection. Without a protective layer of wax, bacteria may find your ears a good place to reproduce, leading to earaches and other issues.

While over-the-counter ear cleaning products can be purchased, it’s best to use these only on the advice and direction of an ear care specialist. Some folk remedies suggest hydrogen peroxide or ear candling as a home treatment, but these can be dangerous. If your symptoms aren’t caused by earwax, peroxide treatments can make other issues worse. Ear candles simply don’t remove wax, and the candles themselves can cause burns or tissue perforations.

3 reasons to leave ear cleaning to professionals


Your hearing care professional sees many cases of impacted earwax and knows how to safely loosen and remove buildups. They’re equipped with the proper tools to eliminate excess wax without damaging the delicate tissue inside your ear.


Since so many symptoms of earwax blockage are shared with other ear health issues, an expert in ear care can recognize when wax isn’t the culprit. Most people have neither the equipment nor the knowledge to self-diagnose ear conditions.

Excess wax production

If you’re one of the unlikely few whose ears overproduce cerumen, regular visits to your ear specialist can keep you clear. You can also learn effective home care techniques that are right for your condition.