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How can I tell if it's hearing loss or ear wax?

If you're having trouble with hearing loss, there is a chance that it could be caused by having excess ear wax blocking the ear canal. Your audiologist will help you determine whether your hearing loss stems from a larger cause or if it is a result of blockage in the ear.

What is ear wax?

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Professionally known as cerumen, wax is produced by tiny hairs and glands within the ear canal. This oil is created to protect against foreign objects like dust, bacteria and other microorganisms from entering the ear canal and causing damage to the inner ear. It also protects the skin within the ear canal, which is very sensitive, from getting irritated from contact with water.

The glands in some people's ears will actually produce a larger amount of ear wax, leading to blockage. Earwax blockage affects roughly 6 percent of people and is often caused by using cotton swabs, which will just push ear wax deeper into the canal.

Symptoms of cerumen blockage

Wax buildup is one of the most common causes of temporary hearing loss, and there are several signs that you should be aware of. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is best to see a doctor and avoid trying to solve the complications at home.

  • Decreased hearing
  • Dizziness
  • Pain in the ear
  • Fullness or a feeling of pressure in the ear
  • Buzzing or other noise in the ear (tinnitus)
  • Drainage or itching from the ear canal

Non-invasive self treatment options

If you're not experiencing any painful issues, you can try some at home solutions. Hearing health professionals often recommend using baby oil, mineral oil or glycerin to treat mild ear wax blockage. However, it is still best to talk to your audiologist before taking any of these steps. Once you've had clearance from your hearing healthcare practitioner, you can try these treatments in the comfort of your home.

  • Washing it out: You can use water that is at body temperature to flush out the wax in your ear; however, this could cause dizziness, so it's best to make sure to have a friend or family member around when you're trying this treatment. To do this, it's helpful to use a syringe to create a gentle stream of water. Hold your head upright to let the water flow into the ear canal, and then allow the water to drain.
  • Using a few drops of alcohol or hydrogen peroxide can also be helpful for mild cases of ear wax buildup. 

When to contact a doctor

If you are experiencing discomfort and these self treatment tips are not successful, it is probably time to visit a doctor. Repeating these treatments or avoiding professional help for a prolonged period of time could increase risk factors and create further issues.

Although there are products on the market that can soften ear wax to help reduce blockage, it is best to see an audiologist if you are experiencing any additional symptoms that could mean you have hearing loss. In addition, individuals who use hearing aids could suffer from reduced hearing from a buildup of earwax on the hearing aid. Make sure to regularly clean your hearing aid to prevent damage and maintain hearing clarity.

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