Sometimes trying to remove earwax can go awry, causing a variety of problematic symptoms, including ear pain. Learn the facts about ear pain after wax removal--when it's OK, when it's not OK, and when it calls for a visit to the doctor.
Generally, you should be able to remove earwax by wiping it from the opening of your ear, but sometimes it builds up in the ear canal. This creates a condition called cerumen or wax compaction. Signs of compacted wax include ear pain, a plugged ear, noises in the ear and gradually increasing hearing loss. Options for wax removal include cerumenolytics or wax-softening drops, irrigation and manual removal by a doctor. In most cases, removal of the built-up wax typically results in a decrease in all symptoms, including ear pain.
Slight ear pain immediately after removal may be normal, especially if you used a commercial product. According to Donald Vickery, coauthor of the book "Take Care of Yourself," wax-softening drops could cause irritation of your ear canal, particularly if you don't use them correctly. If opting for a commercial cerumenolytic, read over the package directions to ensure that you followed them completely. Some brands and formulations may require irrigation immediately after you put the drops in your ears.
Irrigating an ear that has a ruptured eardrum could lead to pain-causing complications, including an ear infection, notes MedlinePlus. These complications occur when liquid gets into the middle ear, which is normally protected by the eardrum. Similarly, you could cause ear pain by damaging the eardrum during wax removal. This typically occurs when you irrigate with a stream of water that's too forceful. A jet irrigator; designed to clean teeth, typically produces a stream of water that's too powerful to use for earwax removal.
Never use cotton swabs or any other sharp, pointed objects to aid in removing earwax. This could lead to ear pain, as well as other complications--including infections and loss of hearing. In certain cases, you may be able to dig out some of the compacted wax but can't get to the rest of it, because the swab pushed it so far back into the ear canal. While inserting a cotton swab into your ear canal, you could also accidentally scratch the skin lining the canal, which could become infected, says Dr. Alan Greene, clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine and coauthor of "A.D.A.M. Illustrated Family Health Guide."
Arrange a visit with your health care provider as soon as you notice ear pain following wax removal, especially if the pain gets progressively worse. Your doctor can conduct a thorough physical examination of the affected ear. Be prepared to give a detailed description of the pain, including its duration and intensity, as well as any other symptoms you may be experiencing. If you attempted to remove the wax yourself, be honest about what method and tools you used. The more information you're able to provide, the more quickly your doctor may pinpoint the cause of the pain. Depending upon the diagnosis, you may need to take oral medication or administer topical ear drops.
- Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia: Wax Blockage
- "Take Care of Yourself"; Dr. Donald Vickery & Dr. James Fries; 2000
- "A.D.A.M Illustrated Family Health Guide"; Dr. Alan Greene et al; 2004