What Causes Excess Ear Wax?

Some of the causes of excessive ear wax are exclusive from other causes of wax accumulation in the ears. Dr. Timothy Hain, neurologist and professor emeritus at Northwestern University Medical School, suggests that some people are "wax producers," meaning they naturally produce more ear wax. In any case, when excess ear wax causes pain, inflammation, tinnitus or ear drainage, the symptoms usually reveal an underlying medical cause.

Excess ear wax may require a trip to the doctor's office. Credit: Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images

Ear Perforation

The eardrum is an oval membrane that separates the middle ear from the inner ear. The membrane's tissue is thin and delicate. When the tissue tears, an ear perforation occurs. Because wax production occurs in the middle ear, wax cannot migrate out of the ear. This can result in excessive wax buildup. Causes of an ear perforation may include excessive loud noises, rapid change in blood pressure or physical trauma, such as injury to the head or objects inserted into the ear—namely cotton swabs or other cleaning objects.

Inner Ear Infection

When an ear perforation occurs, there is a high risk for developing an inner ear infection. Bacteria can easily enter the inner ear through the hole in the membrane's tissue. In the middle ear, the sebaceous glands produce wax for removing dirt and wastes out of the middle ear, and prevent bacteria from entering the inner ear. When an inner ear infection occurs, wax cannot remove the bacteria from the inner ear. Additionally, any ooze or pus that drains into the middle ear can cause excessive wax production that results in wax buildup.

Hearing Instruments

Hearing aids, earplugs and headphones are some of the hearing instruments that can cause wax buildup, as the instruments block natural wax migration. Yet, excessive wax buildup stems from a lack of appropriate or frequent cleansing methods. Users of various hearing instruments need to practice a regular cleansing regime for removing wax buildup and preventing the accumulation of excessive wax in the ears. Hearing aid wearers need to follow appropriate methods, as recommended by an audiologist or other hearing aid specialist, to clean the hearing aid unit, along with all parts and accessories.

Ear Candling

Ear candling is an alternative method used for cleaning wax buildup in the ears. Ironically, ear candling can cause excessive wax buildup, and the American Academy of Otolaryngology advises against the use of candling products because of the potential damage that could occur to the ear. Ear candling can burn the ear, and residue from the candling product can remain in the ear. Wax production increases in response to debris in the ear canal as an attempt to lubricate damaged tissue and move candling residue out of the ear.

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