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Earwax and hearing health

When you think "knight in shining armor," earwax probably doesn't come to mind, but it's actually one of your body's fierce defenders. It keeps your ears moist and protects them from debris. But too much of a good thing can cause buildup and lead to irritation, infection or hearing loss.
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Earwax 101

The good, the bad, and the sticky

If earwax protects your ears but can also cause problems, how do you know when it's good or bad? Color and consistency can give you some indication:
  • Color
    Although it varies from light yellow to an orange-brown, very dark or black earwax could mean a buildup of wax. If you notice a tinge of red, this could indicate bleeding and you should contact your doctor.
  • Consistency
    Earwax can be both wet and sticky or dry and flaky. Generally, this is dependent on your skin type and even your ethnicity. Earwax that is more of a white or greenish discharge, however, could be a sign of an inner ear injury and you should contact your doctor.
Causes of earwax buildup

Buildup and blockage

When the body produces more earwax than it needs, it remains in the ear and can harden. Objects such as cotton swabs can also push the wax further into the ear causing blockage. Several factors can contribute to the buildup of earwax, including:
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  • Older age
  • Foreign objects, such as cotton swabs
  • Excessive hair in the ears or skin disorders
  • Development disabilities
  • Diet
  • Hearing aids and earplugs
The scoop on wax

Symptoms of earwax buildup

Signs of buildup or blockage from earwax can be anywhere from irritating to debilitating. The following may be indications of an issue:
  • Earache or fullness in the ear
  • Itching of the ear
  • Discharge or odor coming from the ear
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  • Dizziness
  • Ringing of the ear (tinnitus)
  • Hearing loss that may continue to worsen
Earwax and hearing loss

Can earwax cause hearing loss?

Earwax, or cerumen, is produced as a defense mechanism for your ears and is usually pushed out of the ear through motions like chewing and talking. If the body overproduces it or it gets impacted in the ear, that's when problems may arise, including reduced hearing. Screen your hearing in less than 5 minutes.
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What to do about wax

Preventing earwax buildup

Earwax is an essential part of your ear health, but buildup and blockages can, nevertheless, still occur. Here are some ways you can prevent earwax buildup:
  • Don't stick any objects, such as cotton swabs, in your ears and don't overclean them.
  • Avoid suction devices or ear candles.
  • If you wear hearing aids, keep them as clean as possible.

Should I clean my ears?

Ears are self-cleaning. That means most people don't need to clean them at all. Unnecessary attempts to clean your ears are usually the cause of the problem altogether. However, not every ear is the same. Sometimes buildup can still happen and there are ways to address the problem.
  • Wax-dissolving drops
    Oils or solutions used to soften and loosen earwax.
  • Earwax irrigation
    Your Hearing Care Professional can use special instruments to manually remove excess earwax.
  • Manual removal
    Your Hearing Care Professional can use special instruments to manually remove excess earwax.

Earwax & hearing loss: FAQ

Can earwax make you deaf?

Does removing earwax improve hearing?

How can you tell if earwax is causing hearing loss?

Is hearing loss from earwax permanent?

How do you unclog earwax?

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Hearing Loss Causes and Risk Factors

Some hearing loss can be prevented. This guide to the causes and risk factors of hearing loss will help you learn to identify potential issues so you can better protect your hearing.
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