Health Encyclopedia
Search Clinical Content Search Health Library
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A-Z Listings

Earwax Removal

Parts of the human ear

The ear canal makes earwax from the canal’s lining. The ears make wax to lubricate and protect the ear canal. The ear canal is the tube that connects the middle ear to the outside of the ear. The wax protects the ear from bacteria, infection, and damage from water or trauma.

The wax that forms in the canal naturally moves toward the outside of the ear and falls out. In some cases, the ear may make too much wax. If the wax causes problems or keeps the healthcare provider from seeing into the ear, the extra wax may be removed.

Too much wax can affect your hearing. It can cause itching. In rare cases, it can be painful. Earwax should not be removed unless it is causing a problem. You should not stick objects such as cotton swabs into your ear to remove wax unless told to do so by your healthcare provider.

Healthcare providers can remove earwax safely. Often flushing the earwax out with water (irrigation) and syringing will help. Sometimes devices or suction are used to remove the wax. It is important to stay still during the procedure to prevent damage to the ear canal. But removing earwax generally doesn’t hurt. You won't need anesthesia or pain medicine when the provider removes the earwax.

A number of conditions lead to earwax buildup. These include some skin problems, a narrow ear canal, or ears that make too much earwax. Using cotton swabs in the canal pushes earwax deeper into the ear and helps lead to the buildup of earwax.

Home care

  • The healthcare provider may advise mineral oil or an over-the-counter (OTC) eardrop to use at home to soften the earwax. They may also advise a home irrigation or syringing kit. Use these products only if the provider advises them. Carefully follow the instructions given.

  • Don’t use mineral oil or OTC eardrops if you might have an ear infection or a burst (ruptured) eardrum. Tell your provider right away if you have diabetes or an immune disorder.

  • Don’t use cotton swabs in your ears. Cotton swabs may push wax deeper into the ear canal or damage the eardrum. Use cotton gauze or a wet washcloth to gently remove wax on the outside of the ear and around the opening to the ear canal.

  • Don't use any probing device or object such as cotton-tipped swabs or bobby pins to clean the inside of your ears.

  • Don’t use ear candles to clean your ears. Candling can be dangerous. It can burn the ear canal. It can also make the condition worse instead of better.

  • Don’t use cold water to rinse the ear. This will make you dizzy. If your provider tells you to rinse your ear, use only warm water or follow their instructions.

  • Check the ear for signs of infection or irritation (listed below under When to get medical advice).

Steps for using eardrops

  1. Wash your hands before and after using the eardrops.

  2. Warm the medicine bottle by rubbing it between your hands for a few minutes.

  3. Lie down on your side, with the affected ear up.

  4. Place the advised number of drops in the ear. To help prevent medicine from leaking out, you may gently put a clean cotton ball into the ear opening.

Follow any other instructions from your healthcare provider.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider or seek medical care right away if you have:

  • Ear pain that gets worse

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Worsening wax buildup

  • Severe pain, dizziness, or nausea

  • Bleeding from the ear

  • Hearing problems

  • Signs of irritation from the eardrops, such as burning, stinging, or swelling and soreness

  • Foul-smelling fluid draining from the ear

  • Signs of infection such as outer ear swelling, redness, or soreness

  • Headache, neck pain, or stiff neck

Online Medical Reviewer: Ashutosh Kacker MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Tara Novick BSN MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2022
© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
Powered by StayWell