Earwax is a sticky substance created by the outer ear canal to protect against external forces, such as dirt and debris, that may cause injury to the inner ear. Normal production of earwax typically does not cause issues within the ear. If the ear produces too much earwax or an individual does not clean the waxy secretions from the outer ear, earwax buildup can occur. While not typically dangerous, earwax buildup can be somewhat uncomfortable. Though tempting, it is not advised for individuals with earwax buildup to stick any foreign objects into their ear, as this can compact the buildup and worsen symptoms. Knowing the symptoms of earwax buildup can be helpful in determining whether medical intervention is required.
Feeling Of Fullness In The Ear
One of the first signs an individual may have an earwax buildup is a feeling of fullness in the ear. This feeling of fullness is due to the earwax being compacted against the ear canal. The fullness may increase if pressure is placed on the outer ear. Though the feeling may be uncomfortable, patients should avoid using home remedies, such as cotton swabs or ear candles to remove the blockage. Doing so may further compact the existing wax, increasing the risk of damage to the eardrum and infection. Typically the earwax will loosen and extricate itself from the ear without external assistance. However, individuals can help speed the process by placing a warm compress on the affected ear. The warmth may loosen the wax in the outer ear and help the blockage work free from the ear.
Muffled Or Decreased Hearing
Muffled or decreased hearing is another sign there is an earwax buildup and potential blockage. Changes in one's hearing may onset suddenly and depend on the size of the blockage. Smaller blockages may result in only minimal hearing change while individuals with larger blockages may experience more moderate hearing loss. The depth of and recognizing the direction of sounds may also occur, as the non-impacted ear begins to work a bit harder. The sudden decrease in hearing can be overwhelming and frightening for some individuals. It is important to note the decrease in hearing is not indicative of inner ear damage, and hearing loss is typically temporary. Once the blockage has been removed, hearing should return to normal.
Ringing In The Ear
Ringing in the ear, otherwise known as tinnitus, is another common sign of earwax buildup. As earwax becomes compacted, it may begin to graze the cochlea, which is the portion of the ear responsible for sending sound information to the brain for processing. The ringing is typically described as steady and high-pitched. While not physically painful, tinnitus can be somewhat of an annoyance, interfering with an individual's ability to concentrate and sleep, resulting in insomnia and poor performance. There is no remedy to combat tinnitus. In most cases, the ringing will stop once the blockage is moved. In some cases, however, the buildup causes damage to the cochlea, resulting in long-term tinnitus.
Pain In The Ear
Pain in the ear with wax buildup can occur if the earwax begins to harden and push against the eardrum. Pain may worsen if pressure is applied to the outer ear and may be sharp and sudden, peaking at points and then decreasing. While pain in the ear is not always indicative of an infection, if pain is felt, individuals should consider visiting a physician for further examination. This is especially true if an individual is experiencing pain accompanied by a fever (over 102 degrees Fahrenheit) and discharge from the ear. Pain can be treated with warm, moist compresses for ten to fifteen minutes every one or two hours.
Itching In The Ear
Earwax accumulation can cause itching in the ear. The excess wax can cause inflammation of the ear canal and surrounding tissues resulting in skin irritation, which leads to itching. The irritation can also be caused by dirt and debris trapped within the ear by the blockage. While using a cotton swab to scratch the irritated ear may seem like a good idea, it may further exacerbate the problem, pushing the wax further into the ear canal and causing further compaction. If the itching becomes unbearable, there are simple over-the-counter remedies that assist with not only loosening the blockage but relieving the itch as well. If over-the-counter remedies do not provide relief, individuals can visit their physician who can use a specialized tool for ear wax removal.
Drainage From The Ear
A very common symptom of earwax buildup is drainage from the ear. It's relatively normal for a small amount of ear wax to drain from the ear every now and then. However, individuals should start looking for other signs of earwax buildup if they notice an excess of drainage from the ear. As earwax builds up within the ear canal, it may start to drain onto the outer ear canal, which is a visible portion of the ear. If patients notice drainage of earwax, it's almost a certainty it is caused by a buildup of earwax.
Once individuals notice this symptom, it is safe to use a washcloth to clean the outer portion of the ear canal. However, it is essential that individuals don't try to remove the earwax with a cotton bud. Doing so will only push the earwax further in while also potentially damaging the eardrum. This is the most harmless symptom associated with earwax buildup, which is why it's important for individuals to seek treatment quickly. By not removing the earwax buildup, patients increase the risk of suffering from more severe symptoms.
A more serious symptom of earwax buildup is a fever. Individuals should keep in mind this symptom will only appear if the earwax buildup hasn't been tended to. If the buildup of earwax is left untreated, an infection can develop around the ear. Along with high amounts of pain in the ear, patients can also develop a high temperature that can make them feel as though they are suffering from a cold or the flu.
While a cold typically comes with other symptoms like a runny nose and a sore throat, individuals should be able to determine they're suffering from a buildup of earwax if the fever isn't accompanied by the usual symptoms of a cold or the flu. This symptom occurs when the patient's body temperature is above 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The high temperature won't dissipate until the infection has been cleared out, which means the best way to get rid of this symptom is by first having the earwax blockage removed from the ear.
Coughing is another symptom that indicates the earwax buildup might have caused an infection. While an earwax blockage doesn't always lead to this symptom, individuals might start coughing if the earwax is lodged in a certain way. This symptom occurs when the earwax stimulates a branch of the vagus nerve that leads to the outer ear. This nerve is involved with many different functions around the body, which includes functions within the lungs and throat. When this nerve is stimulated, a reflex action will be triggered that causes patients to start coughing. While this occurs with many other conditions, it will usually subside when the throat has been cleared of mucus and other irritants.
Since a cough can't get rid of earwax buildup, patients might find it difficult to control the cough until they've found a way to get rid of the buildup of earwax. If the cough has lasted for longer than two weeks and hasn't shown any signs of improvement, it's likely it is being caused by something other than a cold or other forms of bacteria.
Odor Coming From The Ear
Earwax is entirely normal and is important if individuals want to keep their ears clean and healthy. However, it's important to understand earwax isn't supposed to have much of a smell, which means an odor coming from the ear isn't normal. While smelly earwax can be a symptom of a variety of different conditions, the most likely cause is a buildup of earwax, which is the first thing individuals should check if they notice an odd odor.
The reason earwax can have a strange smell is the same reason food begins to smell bad over a lengthy period. When earwax builds up in the ear, it will trap a variety of oils produced by the ear as well as dust, dirt, and dead skin cells. When all of these substances remain in the same place for a lengthy period, they can start to smell bad, which means the odor will worsen over time. Once patients get rid of the earwax, the odor should dissipate as well.
Among the most common yet frightening symptoms of earwax buildup is vertigo. Because of the role the ears play in helping an individual maintain their balance, it's possible to experience this symptom when the earwax has become impacted. When patients experience vertigo, they will feel as though they're unbalanced, which may lead to nausea and dizziness. Many individuals who suffer from this symptom feel like the room is spinning.
Vertigo can also be accompanied by a feeling of fullness in your ear as well as motion sickness. While this symptom can be brought about by any number of underlying health concerns, the most common and least severe cause of it is an earwax buildup. Keep in mind vertigo is usually at its worst when getting out of bed or standing up from a sitting position. Thankfully, vertigo should go away almost immediately after the earwax is removed.