When to See a Doctor for Ear Wax

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Caucasian woman getting ears examined by female doctor
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Ear wax accumulation is a normal part of ear function and oftentimes clears up on its own. In fact, ear wax serves to clean, lubricate and protect your ear canal to keep it healthy and free of dirt and bacteria. But, when you have ear pain or hearing loss that doesn't improve with home treatment for ear wax or an ear wax removal kit, it's possible you have ear wax buildup or impaction. Learn ear wax buildup symptoms and other signs you need to see a doctor for ear wax removal.

Common Causes of Ear Wax

As a natural bodily function, ear wax develops to trap dirt and bacteria to keep your ear canal clean and healthy. Oil glands and hair follicles produce ear wax on a regular basis, and, for some people, their oil glands and hair follicles produce more ear wax than is needed, resulting in ear wax buildup and clogged ears. If you wear a hearing aid, this also may interfere with ear wax removal, leading to ear wax buildup. It’s also possible you may develop an ear wax blockage by pushing ear wax inward when using a cotton swab. This could lead to ear wax buildup symptoms, such as earache, difficulty hearing, ringing or noises in the ear, a stopped-up feeling in the ear, dizziness, and cough.

Ear Wax Treatment at Home

If your ear wax doesn’t fall out of the ear canal on its own, you may try a few different at-home treatments for ear wax removal. One such treatment is allowing some shampoo suds or a few drops of water to enter your ear while showering. Gently rinse it out, but do not allow water to forcefully enter the ear. This could lead to water trapped in the ear or damage the inner ear.

Another possible treatment is applying a few drops of baby oil or mineral oil to the ear canal. Allow the oil to loosen the ear wax for a day or two, and then rinse your ear canal with a gentle squirt of warm water. You also may try an ear wax removal kit available at local stores. However, never try to remove the ear wax using a cotton swab, hair pin, paper clip or other item as this could damage the ear.

When to See a Doctor for Ear Wax

See your doctor if you experience ear wax buildup symptoms, such as difficulty hearing, earache, a stopped-up ear, or pressure or ringing in the ear. These symptoms may be more than just the result of earwax blockage, so it’s important for your doctor to complete an exam. However, if you experience fever, severe ear pain, fluid draining from the ear, or loss of hearing, do not wait to make an appointment. Instead, go to your closest urgent care or emergency center for prompt medical attention. This could indicate a more serious condition, such as a ruptured eardrum, requiring immediate treatment.

Who to See for Ear Wax

In most cases, your general practitioner or family doctor can evaluate and treat an ear wax blockage. However, if the ear wax impaction indicates a more serious condition, your primary care provider may refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist. Remember that your insurance company may require a referral to a specialist, so ask your primary care provider for a referral form before leaving the office.

To maintain optimal ear canal health, it’s important to monitor ear wax buildup and watch for symptoms related to ear wax blockage. If you are unable or having difficulty removing the ear wax, or your symptoms do not go away, consult with your doctor for evaluation and treatment. If your ears are clogged, your doctor or nurse can irrigate them with a solution to remove ear wax.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jun 2
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Earwax Blockage. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/earwax-blockage/symptoms-causes/syc-20353004 
  2. Ear Wax Removal 101: The Best (and Safest) Ways to Clear Clogged Ears. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/ear-wax-removal-101-the-best-and-safest-ways-to-clear-clogged-ears/