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Earwax, or cerumen, is secreted inside your ear canals and forms a sticky, protective covering over the delicate inner lining of the ear canal.
When there is excessive production of earwax, your ear is unable to clear it fast enough, leading to a blockage of the outer ear canal. Earwax buildup can lead to temporary loss of hearing, earache, itchiness, foul odor, and discharge from the ear.
Home Remedies for Earwax Buildup
These remedies can help break down or loosen the consolidated earwax within your ear canal to facilitate its natural expulsion.
Disclaimer: The home remedies listed below carry a lot of anecdotal merits but lack direct scientific support, so you must consult your doctor before trying any of them.
Your doctor will assess the extent of earwax accumulation and other relevant factors, such as the state of your eardrum, any active infection or allergies, other ear drops you may be using, and chronic preconditions, before giving his green light.
1. Oil-based compounds
Certain oils can be safely used as ear drops to soften impacted earwax. Some of them also exhibit antiseptic properties that can help fight bacteria, fungi, and other infection-causing germs. (1)
Oils to use:
- Baby oil
- Almond oil
- Coconut oil
- Mineral oil
- Olive oil
- Garlic oil
How to use:
- Slightly warm the oil of your choice but make sure it is not too hot before you put it in your ear.
- Tilt your head to one side, and use a dropper to administer 3–4 drops of the warm oil into the clogged ear.
- Let the oil sit in your ear cavity for about 10–20 minutes so that it gets completely absorbed and subsequently loosens the earwax.
- After the wait time, tilt your head sideways and allow the downward push of gravity to force the wax toward the ear opening.
- Use cotton swabs or tissue to remove the softened wax from the rim of the ear canal, but do not dig too deep or too forcefully.
Caution: Don’t use any oil that you are allergic to, and avoid this remedy altogether if you have an active ear infection or a ruptured eardrum. Always check with your doctor before trying any ear cleaning remedy.
2. Baking soda
How to use:
- Mix 1 part baking soda and 10 parts regular or saline water.
- Tilt your head sideways and put several drops of this solution in the affected ear using an ear dropper.
- Let the solution settle for 10–20 minutes, and then use a rubber-bulb syringe to gently flush warm water into the ear.
- The stream of water will move the wax toward the ear opening, after which you can use a tissue or soft cloth to wipe it off.
You can also use regular warm water or salt water for this purpose if you do not have baking soda at hand.
Caution: Ask your doctor before trying this remedy to avoid complications later. Always dilute the baking soda in sufficient water to avoid any damage to your delicate inner ear, and avoid this remedy altogether if you have an ear infection or a perforated eardrum. Moreover, people who are using any other ear drops or are allergic to any ear drops should be extra careful when using this remedy.
3. Hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is an effervescent liquid that can be used to clear out small ear blockages caused by cerumen impaction or overproduction. (3)
How to use:
- Take equal parts of 3% hydrogen peroxide and water and mix them well to make a solution.
- Transfer the solution to an ear dropper and squeeze a few drops into the affected ear while tilting your head sideways.
- Wait for 10–20 minutes until the solution dilutes the hardened wax, and then use a cotton swab to gently clean the ear canal opening.
Caution: Don’t try this remedy without your doctor’s approval, and never use undiluted hydrogen peroxide as it can severely damage your inner ear.
Glycerin is a mild lubricating agent that can be safely used to dissolve impacted earwax.
How to use:
- Fill an ear dropper with glycerin.
- Tilt the affected ear toward the sky, and put 3–4 drops of glycerin into the affected ear.
- Close the opening of your ear with a cotton ball, and then return your head to its normal position.
- Do not remove the cotton ball for at least a few hours, after which you can gently flush warm water in your ear to expel the softened wax.
Caution: Consult your doctor before using this remedy to be on the safe side.
5. Vinegar and rubbing alcohol
A mixture of vinegar and rubbing alcohol has been successfully used for earwax removal for ages. Alcohol is an effective drying agent that evaporates at a low temperature, whereas vinegar helps in restoring normal acidic balance within the ear canal.
Both these liquids exhibit antimicrobial properties that can help reduce the risk of ear infections.
How to use:
- Mix equal parts of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol in a bowl to make a solution.
- Use an ear dropper or drench a cotton ball in the solution.
- Tilt your head sideways such that the affected ear is facing the sky.
- Use the ear dropper or squeeze the cotton ball to dribble 2–3 drops of this solution into the ear. Allow the liquid to remain in the ear canal for 10–20 minutes.
- Turn the affected ear downward to allow the excess liquid to drain out. You may use a cotton swab to gently remove the earwax from the ear canal opening.
Caution: Consult your doctor about whether this remedy is safe for you.
6. Ear irrigation with warm water (after softening the earwax)
Ear irrigation is typically performed by a doctor, but you can try it at home too, provided you are well adept with the proper technique and have your doctor’s approval.
The controlled, pressurized flow of water helps direct the softened wax toward the opening of the ear, from where it may naturally drain out or may be removed using a cotton swab, tissue, or soft, clean cloth.
- Tilt the outer ear toward the sky.
- Straighten your ear canal by stretching the pinna, or external flap of the ear, up and back.
- Use a rubber bulb syringe to gently squirt warm water into your affected ear.
- Tilt the treated ear downward to let the water drain out.
Caution: People with poorly controlled diabetes or a compromised immune system should avoid this procedure as they are highly likely to develop an outer ear infection after it.
7. Massage therapy for earwax removal
Massaging the back of your ear with warm oil can help loosen the earwax clogged inside the ear canal and can facilitate its movement toward the opening. The mild heat from the oil can dilute the consolidated wax, while the stimulatory motion of the fingers can push it outside the ear canal.
- Dip your fingers in some warm oil, and use them to massage the area behind your earlobe, only applying gentle pressure. A few minutes of massaging will help soften and dislodge the wax, making it easier to expel.
- Pull your earlobe while opening and closing your mouth to draw the wax toward the ear opening.
- Use a soft cloth to wipe off the wax that has traveled to the external ear.
Caution: You must acquaint yourself with the proper massage technique before attempting this earwax removal strategy. The wrong motion can aggravate your condition by pushing the wax further inside.
You can use any of the above-listed softening agents for a few days to adequately loosen and dislodge the impacted earwax and then use ear irrigation to gently flush it out of the ear canal.
It may take several rounds of wax softening and ear irrigation for the excess earwax to fall out such that the blockage clears completely. If you fail to register any relief even after a few treatments, see your doctor. (4)
Potentially Dangerous Home Remedies for Earwax Buildup That Should Be Avoided
Invasive ear cleaning techniques such as ear candling and the aggressive insertion of cotton swabs can damage your inner ear and eardrum and can push the wax deeper.
i) Aggressive ear cleaning with sharp, invasive tools or even Q-tips can:
- Damage the delicate skin of the ear canal
- Push the wax deeper toward the eardrum
- Introduce bacterial infections into the cavity
- Rupture your eardrum
ii) Ear candling involves igniting a hollow cone-shaped ear candle and holding its flame over the affected ear to melt the impacted earwax. However, the hot wax can drip inside your ear causing burn injuries and can further add to the cerumen impaction.
Preventive Self-Care Tips to Avoid Earwax Buildup
You cannot regulate the production of earwax or change the width and shape of your ear canal. But here are some things you can do to reduce the incidence of wax buildup:
- If you are prone to earwax buildup, you must follow up with your ENT/otologist for regular ear cleaning to prevent future ear blockages.
- Since the inner ear can clean itself, all you should do is gently wipe the outer ear from time to time to remove the debris, wax, and flaky skin.
- Apply a small amount of moisturizing lotion on strictly the outer visible part of the ear to soothe dry, flaky, and sensitive skin. (5)
- Inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema can also make your skin dry and flaky. The skin debris can trickle down into your ear and cause a blockage. Managing these underlying conditions will help prevent ear clogging.
- Do not spray water or any liquid inside your ear with force as it can damage the inner ear and eardrums, and the water pressure can force the earwax deeper into the ear canal.
- Before putting any cleaning solution in your ear, it is important to check its temperature. Using hot liquids to loosen the consolidated earwax can burn the skin inside the ear or perforate the eardrum, increasing the risk of ear infection.
- Never put cold water in your ear to flush out the excess earwax as it can cause dizziness.
- Not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and magnesium through your diet may lead to overproduction, accumulation, and impaction of earwax. Consume a wholesome, well-balanced diet with a special focus on foods that are rich in these vital nutrients.
Earwax helps keep the insides of your ears healthy, but it can be a nuisance if it builds up over time. It is essential that you always consult your doctor before trying any OTC medication or self-treatment for earwax removal.
The inside of your ear is extremely fragile and can get easily and irreparably damaged if the procedure is not done properly.
Seek immediate medical help if you develop any severe symptoms after the earwax removal, such as ear pain, discharge, bleeding, or hearing problem.