The Problem with Earwax

Did you know that earwax increases — and thickens — with age? That as you get older, it can accumulate, get impacted, and cause problems with everything from hearing to balance?

First things first

What is it?

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, earwax (also known as cerumen), is a “mixture of…fatty acids, alcohols, cholesterol, and…squalene…secreted by glands in the outer ear” to keep out dust, bacteria, and other foreign particles. It is your ear’s gatekeeper and natural cleanser.

Think of it like a secure door, one that’s almost always half-shut, that just happens to increase in size over time. Earwax moves from the rear part of your ear canal (near the eardrum), outwards (to the outer portion, the part you can see).

Problems

Without earwax, your ears wouldn’t be nearly as effective as they are. Problems only arise when you have too much. Give it enough time and your earwax doesn’t just “grow,” but it also bonds with the debris it’s there to block. Your wax grows stronger, more compact. It becomes, as Harvard Health writes, “hard and dry.”

Hard and dry earwax can be tough and difficult to manage. Sometimes, it can lead to blockages in the ear canal. Common cerumen blockage symptoms include earaches, feelings of fullness, sudden dizziness, and hearing difficulties / tinnitus.

Treatment

It’s always a good idea to keep your ears clean, but you never want to stick anything inside your ear canal to do so. Q-tips™ are not safe (nothing that small around your eardrum is), and you don’t want to keep removing earwax until there’s not enough there to do its job.

Oftentimes, you don’t have to get it cleared until absolutely necessary. If you’re experiencing any problems, or notice any symptoms a blockage might cause, your primary care physician or audiologist will be able to clean out your ears quickly and safely.