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. 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.