Impacted earwax occurs when wax, also known as cerumen, builds up in the ear canal. A normal body secretion, cerumen protects the ear from bacteria or irritating substances. However, cerumen can build up in the ears of people who produce too much, or when external objects, such as hearing aids, earbuds, or cotton buds used for cleaning ears inhibit the earwax from moving out the ear on its own. The resulting hard chunks of wax lodge in the ear canal and can lead to hearing loss, discomfort, a sense of blockage or ringing in the ear.
A helpful way to treat impacted earwax is to use drops to soften the earwax, so it comes out on its own, or to irrigate the ear canal to help flush the wax out. However, because most people with impacted earwax have symptoms of hearing loss or other discomfort, it's important to first see a doctor to evaluate the true cause of your symptoms and to provide treatment recommendations.
Fold a large bath towel in half and lay it flat across one side of a table. Have the person with the impacted earwax sit at the table, gently resting his head on the towel with the affected ear facing towards the ceiling.
Using an eye dropper, place 3 to 4 drops of a wax-softening agent directly into the affected ear canal. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, a variety of treatments will work, including mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin, or commercial drops. Distilled water or hydrogen peroxide-based drops can also be effective. After the drops have been placed in the ear, the person should stay in this position for several minutes if possible, allowing the ear drops to stay in the ear and soften the wax.
After the ear drops have had time to soften the wax, options include waiting a few days to allow the wax to come out on its own, or irrigating the ear to remove the wax. To irrigate, fill a clean bulb syringe with body-temperature distilled water. The person receiving the treatment should sit upright and drape the bath towel over the shoulder and neck. Hold the syringe approximately ½ inch from the opening of the ear canal and tug gently upward on the top of the ear to help straighten the ear canal. Gently spray the water into the ear canal to dislodge the softened chunk of wax. Tip the head slightly toward the affected ear to allow the water and loosened chunks of wax to drain from the ear onto the towel. Repeat the entire treatment 24 hours later, if necessary.
Contact your health care provider if the symptoms fail to improve or increase in severity during or after the cleaning. Manual removal of earwax may be needed, however this should be performed by a healthcare provider.