Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Earwax: What You Should Know


Am Fam Physician. 2007 May 15;75(10):1530.

  See related article on cerumen impaction.

What is earwax?

Earwax, or cerumen (suh-ROO-mun), is a wax made in your ear. It protects the skin inside your ear canal.

Can earwax cause a problem?

Not in most people. But wax can build up and block your ear canal. This can cause pain, hearing problems, ringing in the ear, or dizziness.

Who gets earwax buildup?

Anyone can get it. It is more likely in:

  • Older people

  • People with mental retardation

  • People who use cotton swabs in their ears

  • People who wear hearing aids or earplugs

How can my doctor tell if I have too much earwax?

Your doctor can look into your ear canal to see if there is too much wax or if it is blocking your ear canal.

What if I have earwax buildup?

Your doctor can remove wax buildup with an ear spoon, use ear drops to soften the wax, or wash out the ear with water. There are many over-the-counter products that can remove wax. If you use one of these, be sure to follow the directions on the package. Never put cotton swabs or other items into your ear canal (see picture). Talk to your doctor if you are worried about wax buildup.

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2007 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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