male cleaning ear with q-tip

Ear Wax


Healthgrades Editorial Staff

What is ear wax?

Ear wax, also called cerumen, can be an annoyance, but it helps to protect your ears from bacteria, dirt, microbes, and other foreign particles. A healthy amount of ear wax is essential to maintain a clean environment in the ear. Ear wax also provides lubrication, keeps the area moist, and protects the ear canal from water.

The body’s natural system of ear wax disposal is a self-sustaining process, in which old wax dries and flakes off near the opening of the ear. Sometimes excess wax is produced and can harden, blocking the ear. A buildup of wax is a common cause of hearing loss. Cleaning inside the ear or attempting to remove ear wax yourself with a cotton swab often causes the wax to lodge deeper in the ear canal and may worsen the symptoms related to excess ear wax.

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Ear wax is usually not a cause for concern, but excessive wax blockage can affect hearing or indicate a serious condition. Seek prompt medical care for serious symptoms, including fever, fluid draining from the ear, loss of hearing, or severe ear pain.