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Earwax Blockage 

Introduction
Earwax blockage is a condition that results when wax that is normally produced in the ear builds up.  Earwax blockage can cause earache, temporary hearing loss, and unusual sounds to be heard in the affected ear.  A doctor can remove earwax with a simple in-office procedure.

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Anatomy
The ear is divided into three parts: the outer, middle, and inner ear.  Your ear not only enables you to hear, but it plays a role in balance as well.  The ear canal travels from your outer ear to your eardrum.

Earwax (cerumen) is produced in the ear canal.  Earwax protects your ear canal by fighting infections and trapping dirt and particles.  Old earwax eventually moves out of the ear and is washed away.

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Causes
Earwax blockage commonly results from pushing the wax deep into the ear canal while using cotton tipped swabs.  Some people overproduce earwax, causing a buildup that creates a blockage.  The shape of an ear canal can promote earwax blockage.

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Symptoms
Earwax blockage can occur in one or both ears.  The blockage causes an earache and your ear may feel like it is plugged.  You may experience a temporary decrease in hearing or ringing in the ear, called tinnitus. 

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Diagnosis
Your doctor can diagnose earwax blockage by reviewing your medical history and examining your ears.  The inside of your ear will be examined with an otoscope.  An otoscope is a lighted device with a magnifying glass that allows your doctor to see earwax blockage as well as the structures in your outer ear.

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Treatment
Earwax blockage can be removed in your doctor’s office.  Eardrops may be placed in your ear to soften the wax before removal.  A syringe filled with warm water is used to gently flush the wax from the ear.  Your doctor may use small instruments to remove the wax.  Hearing typically returns to normal once the wax is removed.

Earwax blockage may develop again after treatment.  Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter products to help decrease the risk of earwax blockage.  You should not attempt to remove earwax with an object or cotton tipped swab.

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Prevention
It can be helpful for people that are prone to earwax blockage to have their ears examined and cleaned, if necessary, by their doctor during an annual physical.  You should not place objects or cotton tipped swabs deep in the ear.  Simply clean your ear by gently wiping the outer portion.  Your doctor may recommend a preventive ear care regimen.

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Am I at Risk

Some people may be more prone to earwax blockage because their ears overproduce wax or the shape of their ear canal promotes wax buildup.  Using cotton tipped swabs may increase the risk of earwax blockage.

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Complications
Trauma or a perforated eardrum from earwax blockage can cause hearing loss.  Inner or outer ear infections may accompany earwax blockage.

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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.