Listen Up: The Scoop on Earwax

Published on 
June 27, 2017

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Parents often ask, “Why do we have earwax?  Why do some children produce so much wax? Can wax buildup cause hearing loss?” Today we're going to answer a few of those questions and give you the lowdown about earwax and hearing!

What is earwax?

Although earwax may look, feel and smell gross, it is very important to keeping our ears clean and healthy. Earwax is produced by glands in the ear that help protect our ears from dust, dirt, insects and bacteria.

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What causes earwax to build up?

Like any other gland, some people’s produce more than others. The ear is naturally designed to clean itself. Wax naturally moves out of the ear canal. Sometimes earwax can build up a lot and the ear is not able to remove it quickly, which leads to earwax buildup.

Can earwax buildup interfere with my child's hearing?

Yes, too much earwax can block sound from getting into the ear, acting as an earplug.

How can I tell if my child is having trouble hearing due to earwax buildup?

It's not always easy to tell, but some children will rub or tug on their ears, or dig into the ears with their finger. Earwax buildup is not the same as an ear infection. You may notice that your child is not responding to sounds as they used to. They might ask you to repeat what you have said multiple times or say, “Huh?” or “What?” a lot. Older children may complain of pressure in the ear. If you are concerned, it is best to make an appointment with the pediatrician. The pediatrician may make further referrals to specialists, such as an otolaryngologist or an audiologist.

How do you treat earwax buildup?

If there is earwax on the outer part of the ear you can simply wipe it away with a soft cloth or towel. Never use cotton swabs to clean inside your child's ear. Cotton swabs can push earwax deeper into the ear, making it harder for it to come out. Also, the cotton swab may be pushed too deep inside the ear canal, causing accidental damage to the ear or eardrum. It is best to make an appointment with the pediatrician for removal. 

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In the clinic, earwax may be removed by flushing warm water into the ear canal or with a small plastic curette. Your doctor may recommend simple at-home treatments with ear drops to reduce wax buildup if your child produces too much wax. Treatments are usually quick and painless and hearing is usually fully restored.