Our ears are complex machines with tiny parts that work in harmony to help us interact with the world around us. The body’s natural way of protecting the ear from harmful substances, such as dust, microorganisms and other foreign particles, is cerumen. Cerumen, more commonly known as earwax, has several therapeutic purposes. Not only does it protect our ears from irritation and sensitivity, it also wards off infections and bacteria from entering our ear canal. 

Why earwax builds up

Even though the body has a natural mechanism to remove earwax, sometimes an excess production prevents it from doing so. When the ceruminous glands of our outer ears secrete cerumen, it mixes with dead skin cells and skin oil to produce the wax-like, oily liquid called earwax.

Most of the time, earwax naturally slips out of our ear canals when we sleep or take a shower. However, in some cases, an excessive production of cerumen leads to an accumulation or buildup that begins to harden after a while. Once hardened, the earwax may act as a blockage in the ear canal, leading to certain symptoms that may indicate the need for ear cleaning.

Symptoms of earwax buildup

If you feel any of the following symptoms, perhaps it would be a good time to see an audiologist to have your ears checked and cleaned professionally.

  • Tinnitus: One of the most common symptoms of earwax buildup is a persistent ringing in the ears, called tinnitus. Apart from the earwax accumulation, there are several other things that may cause tinnitus. These include old-age, exposure to loud noises, and stiffening of your ear bones. In either case, it is best to get your ears checked by a doctor.
  • Earache: While there are many other causes of earaches, the most probable cause is earwax buildup, especially if you cannot trace the ache to any recent infection or exposure to debris, pollution, or water. Earaches occur when a ball of hardened earwax begins to press against your auditory nerve. This is a sign that you must get your ears cleaned.
  • Odd-colored wax: Another sign of earwax buildup is earwax that is particularly dark in color. This is indicative of a high concentration of debris and microorganisms in your ears, which is a trigger for excessive earwax production. If you see odd-colored earwax, you should probably speak to an audiologist about ear cleaning.
  • Sudden hearing loss: While age-related or noise-induced hearing loss happens over a long period of time, hearing loss due to earwax buildup can happen overnight or from one moment to the next. Even though the hearing loss is normally temporary and can be reversed with cleaning, the sensation is frightening and worrying for most people.

Talk to an audiologist

If you’re experiencing frequent or persistent issues with excess earwax, or your hearing is being negatively impacted, don’t hesitate to contact an audiologist in your area. Having your ears professionally cleaned will not only improve your hearing, but the audiologist can offer tips and tricks to keep your ears in optimal shape at home.