Ear wax, also known as cerumen, is a natural substance produced to protect the ear from damage and infections. It is produced in the ear canal and normally accumulates and then dries up and falls out of the canal. It rids the ear of dust particles and repels water, which can cause infections. Without ear wax, the ears would be dry, itchy and unprotected.
Many people also experience a wax blockage when they attempt to clean their ears and accidentally push wax too far into the canal. If an extreme amount of wax builds up, it may need to be cleaned, or lavaged, by a doctor. Ear drops may also be prescribed to soften the wax and allow it to be cleared out. When there is a blockage of wax in the ear canal, patients may experience earache, a feeling of the ear being plugged or full, ringing in the ear and partial hearing loss.
The Ear Wax Removal Procedure
A doctor will examine the ear to determine whether a wax blockage is present. If there is a wax blockage, the doctor may perform the following treatments to remove the ear wax and clear any blockage within the ear.
An ear wash or irrigation is a common treatment performed to clear the ear canal of excess wax buildup. The doctor will soften and remove the wax with the ear wash. While the head is upright, the ear is positioned for the most direct path to the canal. The doctor will then direct a syringe of warm water, sometimes mixed with saline or detergent drops, toward the canal wall adjacent to the blockage. The patient will be directed to tip their head to drain the water. This process may be repeated several times until the plug of wax is freed.
This procedure is most often performed by an otolaryngologist using suction, special miniature instruments, and a microscope to magnify the ear canal. This type of removal is preferred if the ear canal is narrow, the eardrum has a perforation or tube, or other methods of removal have failed.
Because of the risk of damaging the inner ear and ear drum, ear wax removal should only be performed by a doctor.