Wax in the ears causes a great deal of unnecessary concern. Many parents worry that their child has excessive earwax, and go to great trouble trying to remove it. This is unnecessary and may be harmful.
Earwax (cerumen) is quite harmless and is a normal part of the body's self-protection mechanism. It is made by tiny glands in the skin that line the ear canal. The job of earwax is to trap dirt and other things that enter the ear canal and to slow the growth of bacteria. In most people the wax just works its way gradually out of the ear canal. Some people seem to make more wax than others. This is not a sign of poor hygiene.
Sometimes wax builds up in the ear canal. It is not know why earwax build up happens to some people or why it often affects only one ear.
Trying to clean out the wax from inside the ear canal is not a good idea. In particular, putting cotton buds or bobby pins inside the ear canal should be avoided. These can damage the sensitive lining of the canal, and even damage the ear drum. Most of the time all that happens is that the wax is pushed further down the canal. The only ear cleaning that is needed is to wipe or wash away the wax that has come out of the ear canal.
Ear candles are also not recommended. Research has shown ear candling does not work and it can cause injuries such as burns, blockages and damage to the eardrum.
If there is a build-up of wax in the ear canal it may cause a feeling of ear fullness or hearing problems. This is especially common after swimming. In this case the wax can be removed in the doctor's surgery by gently syringing with warm water. Very hard wax may need softening with drops from the chemist, or slightly warmed olive oil.
Last Reviewed: 30 June 2010