What is ear wax?

Ear wax, otherwise known as cerumen, is an oily substance produced in the ear canal. Ear wax protects the ear from foreign particles, dust and bacteria. Ear wax also provides a barrier, protecting the skin of the ear canal from irritation due to exposure water. In normal amounts, ear wax is healthy, and is able to exit the ear canal via the ear opening.

Ear wax is not formed deep in the canal, but in the outer third of the ear canal. Blockage, or impaction of ear wax often occurs when the wax has been pushed deep into the ear canal (often by the use of cotton buds). Cotton buds are able to remove the superficial wax, but in turn pushes the rest of the wax deeper into the canal onto the ear drum. Hearing aid users are prone to wax impaction.


What are the symptoms of wax build-up?

  • Earache
  • Fullness or a plugged sensation of the ear.
  • Partial hearing loss.
  • Tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ear).


How can it be treated?

An ENT specialist is able to remove impacted wax using suction and a microscope. This type of wax removal is preferred, especially if you have narrow ear canals, history of ear infections, perforations or ventilation tubes (grommets).