Hearing loss can occur for many reasons. Chronic conditions, injuries and even loud noises can do damage to the tiny, delicate hairs inside the cochlea (inner ear), thus causing hearing loss. On occasion, hearing loss can occur because of a blockage that prevents sound from reaching the inner ear. Though blockages are typically caused by foreign objects, they can also be caused by natural substances secreted by your own body: namely, earwax.
Blockage of any kind in the ear, even from a natural substance like earwax, can be a problem. A buildup of too much earwax can completely or partially block your ear canal, causing a variety of problems, including hearing loss. Some people are at greater risk for this problem to occur than others. Understanding how you can be affected by hearing loss from earwax, what causes earwax to build up and what you can do to prevent this kind of problem, can protect your hearing and help your ears stay healthy.
What Is Earwax?
Earwax is a gummy, yellow-ish substance made up of secretions by glands in your ear and dead skin cells. Earwax migrates slowly from your ear canal to the outer part of the ear. Every time you move your jaw, whether from talking or chewing, you bring the earwax in your ear canal a little closer to the outer part of your ear. When it gets to the outermost area of the ear, most earwax will flake off naturally. Many people never need to clean their ears because of this natural movement.
Earwax can be helpful. It’s naturally lubricating and antibacterial, which benefits your ear. Normal amounts of earwax can protect your ear from infection, injury, foreign objects, and exposure to water. A problematic buildup of earwax is called impacted earwax.
What Causes Impacted Earwax?
Impacted earwax occurs when your ear starts to make wax faster than the body removes it. Sometimes impacted earwax happens because of a chronic condition like eczema or lupus. Other times, impacted earwax occurs because of problems, like a narrow ear canal or a sloping ear canal. Injury can cause your ear to produce too much wax. Some people cause their own earwax to build up when they put objects inside their ear.
A common cause of impacted earwax is repeated insertion of a cotton swab into the ear for cleaning purposes. By inserting the cotton swab, you will remove some ear wax but will also push some earwax deeper into your ear, preventing its natural progression from the canal to the outer ear.
People who wear hearing aids can sometimes get impacted ear wax if the hearing aid pushes earwax into the ear. People who wear earplugs on a regular basis may experience this problem as well.
Some people are at increased risk for impacted earwax. Older people often have chronic conditions that can lead to impacted earwax, while younger people may be more likely to stick objects into their ear. People with hearing aids are also at increased risk for impacted earwax.
What Are the Signs of Hearing Loss from Impacted Earwax?
A small buildup of earwax in the ear is unlikely to cause a problem. However, if a lot of earwax builds up at once, it can cause a variety of issues including:
- Difficulty hearing soft noises
- Difficulty following conversations
- Full hearing loss
Other symptoms of impacted earwax include:
- Ringing in the ears
- Sense of fullness in the ear, or a clog
Can Hearing Loss From Earwax Be Reversed?
Hearing loss from earwax is not generally permanent, but the only way to address the problem safely is by seeing a healthcare provider. The first thing your healthcare provider will do is perform an assessment of your condition by asking questions about your health history and symptoms. Your healthcare provider will also perform an exam and may administer a hearing test. Impacted earwax is generally visible, so it won’t be hard for your physician to find evidence of this condition.
Once your physician diagnoses the condition, they should recommend treatment based on the cause of the problem and the severity. Impacted earwax is not always a problem that physicians choose to treat. Impacted earwax often goes away on its own. However, if you are experiencing severe symptoms like hearing loss, your physician will likely recommend treatment. ‘
Treatments vary. Some common treatments of impacted earwax include ear drops, manual removal of the earwax and irrigation of the ear.
Sometimes, when it comes to impacted earwax, treatment of the problem causes symptoms that are worse than the problem itself. Treatments can cause problems like earaches, dizziness, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and even bleeding in the ears and/or temporary hearing loss.
Depending on how severe the problem is, you may need a combination of treatments for your impacted earwax. Some home remedies for impacted earwax exist. Vacuum kits and ear candling are examples of DIY remedies people have used. However, most physicians will not recommend self-treatment for earwax. If you have impacted earwax, you should see a doctor to get diagnosed, and if the condition needs treatment, let your physician do it for you. This is the safest and most effective way to remove earwax.
What Can You Do to Avoid Hearing Loss from Earwax?
Some people can’t avoid impacted earwax because they have health conditions that cause earwax to build up too quickly. Other people simply experience this problem because of the plugs or hearing aids that they wear. Being aware of the symptoms of earwax buildup and seeing a physician when the symptoms start to emerge can help you take care of your ears and avoid painful or uncomfortable conditions.
Some people cause their earwax to build up through their own behaviors. You can prevent this from happening by changing the way you take care of your ears. Don’t clean your ears unless you are directed to do so by a qualified physician, and if you do clean your ears, follow the instructions from your physician as closely as possible.
Don’t stick foreign objects in your ear unless directed to do so by a physician or an otherwise qualified professional. Avoid using cotton swabs in your ear, and never try to remove earwax on your own. If you notice symptoms of earwax buildup in your ear, see a physician right away. Doing this can help you take care of your ears and hearing.
1. Cedars Sinai, Impacted Earwax – https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/i/impacted-earwax.html
2. Cleveland Clinic, Earwax – https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14428-ear-wax-buildup–blockage
3. EarQ, Can Earwax Cause Hearing Loss? – https://www.earq.com/hearing-health/articles/can-earwax-cause-hearing-loss