Feeling blocked? It could be ear wax build-up

Fast facts – ear wax

  • The scientific term for ear wax is cerumen.
  • Ear wax is one of our body’s natural defences, protecting us from dust, bacteria and other invasive micro-organisms and preventing the ear canal from becoming too dry.
  • Between 1 and 4 million people in the UK experience blocked ears due to impacted ear wax. It affects people of all ages.

What is ear wax and why can it build up?

Ear wax is a natural yellow or brown substance that is a combination of skin cells, dust and secretions produced by glands in the ear canal. It’s generally described as wet or dry, and your age, genetics, diet and environment can all affect the type of ear wax you have.

How much wax your ears produce varies hugely from person to person and one ear can produce more wax than the other. Most of the time it will work its way out of the ear naturally and you won’t be aware of it.

However, some people produce a lot of ear wax naturally and are prone to wax build-up. Others may be at risk of build-up because they have naturally hard or dry ear wax or narrow ear canals. (Our ear wax becomes drier the older we get.) Ear wax can build up if you insert objects into your ear canal, such as cotton buds, ear plugs or earphones.

Signs and symptoms of wax build-up

When ear wax builds up it can become impacted inside the ear canal and this can lead to all sorts of symptoms, such as:

  • A general feeling of having blocked ears
  • Hearing loss
  • Earache
  • Tinnitus (hearing ringing sounds)
  • Itchiness
  • Vertigo
  • Ear infections

What should you do if you have a problem?

It’s quick and easy these days to remove ear wax, thanks to the effective electronic options available. In most cases you can be hearing better and enjoying life symptom-free within half an hour.
At The Hearing Clinic we offer two options for ear wax removal: ear irrigation and endoscopic wax removal.

  • Ear irrigation
    • This uses specially designed electronic equipment to gently pump water into the ear canal at a controlled rate to dislodge and remove wax. The process takes 15-30 minutes (depending on the amount, type and depth of wax) and costs £45 – £65.
  • Endoscopic ear wax removal
    • This is a dry technique and one of the safest and most comfortable methods of wax removal. It’s also the method we use if you have any pre-existing ear or hearing problems. An ear endoscope (called an oto-endoscope) is placed inside the ear canal and an image is projected onto a screen, enabling the wax removal to be extremely precise. The process takes 10-25 minutes and costs £50 – £80.

Before your appointment…

Whichever treatment option you have, we recommend that you use olive oil in your ears for at least a week before your appointment to soften the ear wax. You can use normal olive oil or olive oil drops, which are available from pharmacies.

What about ear candling?

Some alternative therapists offer ear candling/coning to treat wax build-up and even hearing loss. However, we must stress that ear candling has no proven benefit in removing or reducing ear wax or in treating hearing loss. Neither has it been shown to treat ear infections or tinnitus problems. It is ineffective and potentially dangerous and The Hearing Clinic does not recommend it.

What to do next

Contact us to book an appointment for ear wax removal.

Helpful links

NHS Choices: Earwax build-up

Join the Conversation

Share your thoughts about this article. Complete the form below.