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Earwax build-up

Earwax normally just falls out on its own. When it's blocking your ears a pharmacist or audiologist can help.

Symptoms of earwax build-up

If your ear is blocked with earwax you can have:

  • earache
  • difficulty hearing
  • itchiness
  • dizziness
  • an ear infection
  • sounds such as high-pitched tones coming from inside the ear (tinnitus)

Once the earwax is removed, these symptoms usually improve. If they don't, speak to your GP.

Causes of earwax

You might have earwax build-up because:

  • you just have more wax in your ears – some people do naturally
  • you have hairy or narrow canals (the tubes that link the eardrum and outer ear)
  • of your age – wax gets harder and more difficult to fall out
  • of hearing aids, earplugs and other things you put in your ear – these can push the wax further in

Treatment of earwax build-up

Treating earwax build-up yourself

Earwax usually falls out on its own. If it does not, put 2 to 3 drops of olive oil or almond oil in your ear twice a day for a few days. Over the next 2 weeks lumps of earwax should fall out of your ear. Especially at night when you're lying down.

Do not use your fingers or other objects like cotton buds to remove earwax. This will push the wax in and make it worse.

Do not use vegetable oils in your ears as they can cause an allergic reaction for some people.

There's no evidence that ear candles or ear vacuums get rid of earwax.

How a pharmacist can help with earwax build-up

Talk to a pharmacist about earwax build-up. They can give you advice and suggest treatments.

They might recommend chemical drops to dissolve the earwax. The earwax should fall out on its own or dissolve after about a week.

Do not use drops if you have a hole in your eardrum (a perforated eardrum).

When to see your GP

See your GP if:

  • your ear has not cleared after 5 days
  • your ear is badly blocked and you cannot hear anything - you can get an infection if it is not cleared

Not all GP practices remove earwax

Some can:

  • flush the wax out with water (ear irrigation)
  • suck the wax out (microsuction)

These treatments are usually painless. You might have to pay to have them done privately.

Preventing earwax build-up

You cannot prevent earwax. It's there to protect your ears from dirt and germs. But you can keep using ear drops to soften the wax. This will help it fall out on its own and should prevent blocked ears.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE.

page last reviewed: 22/12/2020
next review due: 22/12/2023

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.