What is earwax?

Ear wax: a friend for your health and wellbeing

As one of the body's many naturally occurring protective substances, earwax is incredibly useful to our health and wellbeing. But what exactly is earwax? It is an oily material that is produced by glands within the ear canal, designed to trap dust, to protect the ear canal skin lining and to reduce the likelihood of bacterial infection. In the past, earwax has been considered a valuable substance, used as a salve for puncture wounds or even as a lip balm. Maintaining a healthy level of earwax is key - too little and you might succumb to bacterial infections, too much and it can compact, causing temporary hearing loss.

Blocked ears and other ear wax issues

Earwax is usually harmless, but if you have particularly hard wax or too much compacted in your ear, it can cause some pain and discomfort. If you suffer from frequent ear infections, flaky skin near the ear or hair in the ear canal, you may find that you have a heightened risk of developing earwax problems.

If earwax comes into contact with the eardrum it can cause discomfort and vertigo, a sensation that makes you feel as if you are moving even when standing still. If your earwax is thought to be excessive, you might need to have it removed. Your GP can investigate the following issues and then may recommend a hearing test to determine any changes. An ENT specialist would then be able to assist you with this.

  • Middle ear infection (otitis media)
  • External ear infection (otitis externa)
  • Perforated eardrums
  • Vertigo
  • Ear pain
  • Worsening of pre-existing tinnitus
  • Damage to the external auditory meatus (the tube that connects the outer and middle ear)

Earwax build up prevention and treatment

To reduce your chances of developing problems relating to earwax, we highly recommend that you avoid putting objects directly into your ears, such as cotton buds or hair pins. Even if you are using these to remove excess wax, you can easily damage your ear canal or eardrum, lodging wax further inside your ear. Instead, you can use ear drops or spray as recommended by our expert clinicians. This will liquify and loosen stubborn wax, allowing it to work its way out naturally.

If your problems persist, ask to see the nurse at your local GP surgery, where an examination or ear irrigation may be recommended. You can also contact your Bay Audiology clinician for any additional support to ensure that your hearing health is well cared for as well as viewing our range of hearing aids.

To discover what earwax is made of or to check the signs of excessive wax, read our causes, symptoms and treatments pages.