Purpose of Earwax

The purpose of earwax (cerumen) is to keep your ear canal clean. It is a normal, protective coating for the sensitive skin of the ear canal. Earwax helps to keep dust and dirt away from the eardrum. It has antibacterial characteristics to protect against infections, it functions as an insect repellent to keep bugs out of your ears, and it helps to lubricate the ear canal, which prevents dry, itchy skin.Woman using Q-Tip

The ear is structured to remove its own earwax. All that’s called for on your part is regular showering and cleaning the external ear with a cloth.

Dangers of Using Q-Tips (Cotton Swabs)
  • Earwax impaction: Using a cotton swab to try to clear earwax from your ear can actually push the earwax deeper in. This can prevent earwax from naturally clearing and cause it to build up inside your ear. The accumulation of too much earwax can lead to pain, a feeling of fullness in the ear or muffled hearing.
  • Rupturing the eardrum: The most common cause of eardrum rupture is injury to the ear. This typically occurs from using cotton swabs or other instruments in the ear at home. Not only is rupturing the eardrum painful, but it can also lead to hearing loss and infections. 
  • Infection: Using a cotton swab in your ear can introduce different bacteria, dust, and dirt into your ear and lead to ear infections. 
  • Getting material stuck in the ear: Cotton material from cotton swabs can also get lodged and stuck in the ear. This can cause hearing loss, infections, and discomfort.

Some people may overproduce earwax, which can plug the ear canal and cause earaches, infections, and other problems. An excess of earwax can result in some hearing loss, which typically resolves once the wax is removed. Earwax removal should only be done by a licensed audiologist or a physician who has been trained to remove earwax.

If your problem isn’t serious, but you do feel like you have too much earwax buildup, you can try putting a few drops of baby oil, hydrogen peroxide, mineral oil, or glycerin in your ear to soften the wax. Most over-the-counter wax removal kits are effective at softening wax so it can work its way out of the ear naturally.Woman having ears checked

If you have excessive earwax, make an appointment with an audiologist to have it properly removed. Audiologists at the Pennsylvania Ear Institute (PEI) can remove earwax safely through one of three methods: irrigation, suction, or instrumentation. To schedule an appointment with one of the Pennsylvania Ear Institute’s (PEI) audiologists, please call 215.780.3180.