Your body has many natural and efficient defenses to minimize illness, infection and damage from the outside world. One such defense is earwax. Though it may be annoying, itchy and unsightly, earwax is a great protector of the ear canals and your delicate eardrum. Earwax is secreted continually, but sometimes can build up and harden, making removal difficult. It must be softened first and this is easy to do at home, with ingredients you most likely already have.
Earwax, or cerumen, is a great defender against the many foreign objects that can fly, crawl, gather or blow into your ears. This sticky cerumen is secreted from the glands in the skin that line your ear canal and, along with many little hairs, it blocks out dirt, dust, insects and bacteria by trapping these objects and immobilizing them.
Most people produce a regular, but small amount of earwax that travels naturally to the ear opening, where it washes away with bathing or swimming. It can also work its way forward and fall out as a small, round ball as new wax is secreted to replace it. Sometimes this wax becomes hardened because of dry weather or dry skin within the ear canal. Many people try and clear their ears out with cotton swabs or other objects, but this method may pack the wax down farther into the canal, where it can't work its way out naturally.
Once the earwax is hardened, it may become impacted and difficult to remove and must be softened first, before it can be flushed out. Anthony J. Yonkers, M.D., chairman of the Otolaryngology Department at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, recommends the home remedy of baby oil and warm water to soften stubborn earwax. Yonkers suggests warming the oil to body temperature, filling a dropper with the oil and placing a few drops in the ear twice a day. The baby oil typically will melt or soften the wax, and then you follow this with gentle irrigation, using lukewarm water and a rubber bulb syringe.
If the blockage is particularly stubborn, you can try using mineral oil or glycerin, along with hydrogen peroxide, notes MayoClinic.com. With an eyedropper, place the mixture in the ear canal two times a day for no more than four to five days. Expect to hear the hydrogen peroxide bubbling -- this is normal. You may need to repeat these wax-softening and irrigation steps several times before excess wax comes out. It may come out in small pieces or what looks like little flakes.
Symptoms you may experience that will alert you to the fact that earwax has built up, hardened and needs softening before removal include: itching deep in the ear, muffled hearing as if you were wearing earplugs, an earache, ear noises called "tinnitus," or a feeling of fullness. Douglas Hoffman, M.D., Ph.D., states that you can be affected by a tickling cough as well because your ear canal and throat share some of the same nerves.
Never try to dig out excessive, hardened wax with a cotton swab, paper clip or hair pin. You may push the cerumen farther in the canal and cause serious damage to the lining of the ear canal or eardrum, according to MayoClinic.com. You should not irrigate your ears if you have tubes in place or any other hole in your eardrum as injury and/or infection may result.