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Earwax is a naturally produced substance that protects the ear canal. It is a mixture of skin, sweat, hair, and debris (such as shampoo and dirt) held together with a fluid secreted by glands inside the ear canal (ceruminous glands). The ear canals are self-cleaning.
Earwax helps filter dust, keeps the ears clean, and protects the ear canal from infection. Normally, earwax is a self-draining liquid that does not cause problems. As the skin of the ear canal sheds, the wax is carried to the outer part of the ear canal and drains from the ear by itself.
Earwax ranges in color from light to dark brown or orange. In children, earwax is usually softer and lighter than the earwax produced by adults. Children produce a lot of earwax, which tapers off as they grow older.
Earwax is normally produced only in the outer half of the ear canal and will not become deeply impacted unless it is pushed in. The ear canal may become blocked (impacted) when attempts to clean the ear with cotton swabs, bobby pins, or a finger push wax deeply into the ear canal. Impacted earwax may cause some hearing loss or other problems, such as ringing in the ears (tinnitus), a full feeling in the ears, or vertigo. Poking at the wax with cotton swabs, your fingers, or other objects usually only further compacts the wax against the eardrum.
Most earwax problems can be handled with home treatment. Professional help may be needed to remove tightly packed earwax.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Vertigo is the feeling that you or your surroundings are moving when there is no actual movement. It may feel like spinning, whirling, or tilting. Vertigo may make you sick to your stomach, and you may have trouble standing, walking, or keeping your balance.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Do not try to remove earwax if you have ear pain or a discharge that looks different than earwax, if you think you have a ruptured eardrum, if you have had ear surgery, or if you have tubes in your ears.
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
Earwax is a protective substance produced in the ear canal. It usually flows out of the ear by itself without problems. In general, the best way to prevent infection or impacted earwax is to leave earwax alone.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
Last Revised: January 9, 2012
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
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