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Can you feel earwax blockage?

Yes, you can definitely feel earwax blockage in your ears. Some of the most common symptoms that indicate you have excessive earwax buildup causing a blockage include:

  • Feeling like your ears are plugged or clogged
  • Decreased hearing ability
  • Ear pain or discomfort
  • Ringing in your ears (tinnitus)
  • Dizziness
  • Coughing

Earwax, also known medically as cerumen, is produced by glands in the ear canal. It acts as a protective barrier and lubricant for the ear canal, helping trap dirt, bacteria, and other debris before it reaches the eardrum. A certain amount of earwax is normal and healthy. However, too much earwax buildup can cause blockage and symptoms.

What causes excessive earwax buildup?

There are several factors that can cause someone to produce excess earwax and be prone to blockages, including:

  • Narrow or blocked ear canals
  • Increased production of earwax
  • Underlying medical conditions such as eczema or psoriasis
  • Use of hearing aids or earplugs which compact earwax
  • Older age – earwax becomes drier and harder
  • Use of cotton swabs which can push wax deeper into canal

Additionally, some people simply produce more earwax than others genetically. Earwax type is also a factor, as wet, sticky earwax is more likely to block the ears compared to dry, flaky wax.

What does earwax blockage feel like?

Here is a more in-depth look at some of the most common symptoms and sensations caused by earwax blockages:

Plugged or clogged feeling

One of the most obvious symptoms is a plugged or clogged sensation in the ears. It may feel like your ears need to “pop” or release pressure. The blockage creates a feeling of fullness.

Hearing loss

Excessive earwax can cause partial or temporary hearing loss. Sounds may seem muffled or muted. Voices may sound quieter in the blocked ear. The extent of hearing loss depends on the amount of blockage.

Ear pain

In some cases, a wax blockage can cause ear pain or an ache inside the ear. Pain may be dull and mild or sharp and severe. The pain often stems from pressure building up behind the blockage.

Ringing in ears (tinnitus)

Ringing, buzzing and roaring sounds in the ears, known medically as tinnitus, can develop with an earwax impaction. This noisy interference is usually temporary and goes away once the blockage is removed.

Dizziness or vertigo

Some individuals experience dizziness, lightheadedness or vertigo if earwax builds up and blocks one or both ears. The balance system is disrupted, causing unsteadiness.


Coughing is an unusual symptom of earwax blockage. The vagus nerve runs from the brain to the ears, and an ear canal irritation from wax can trigger coughing.


Itchy ears is another potential sensation from earwax impaction. The blockage and resulting inflammation can cause itchy ears.

Ear odor

In severe cases with chronic impaction, a foul odor may emanate from the ear due to trapped bacteria and debris decaying.

Difficulty hearing conversations

Day-to-day communication is often impacted by excessive earwax. Conversations may be harder to follow, especially in noisy environments or when trying to use a blocked ear.

When to see a doctor

Most cases of earwax blockage can be managed at home using ear drops or irrigation. However, it’s recommended to see a doctor if:

  • At-home remedies don’t alleviate the blockage within 1-2 weeks
  • You have sudden, significant hearing loss or deafness
  • You experience chronic or severe ear pain
  • Symptoms worsen or persist over time
  • Earwax buildup recurs frequently
  • You have dizziness, ringing in the ears, or cough along with blockage

A doctor can safely examine your ears and determine if the blockage needs medical removal. Leaving chronic earwax blockages untreated can sometimes lead to complications.

How is earwax blockage diagnosed?

Earwax blockage is usually diagnosed by looking inside the ears with an otoscope. An otoscope is a handheld instrument with a light and magnifying lens for visualizing the ear canal and eardrum. This allows the doctor to visually confirm excessive earwax buildup.

Sometimes cerumen impaction needs to be flushed or suctioned out before the eardrum is visible. Other diagnostic methods include:

  • Examining ears for signs of redness, discharge, odor, etc.
  • Asking about symptoms and medical history
  • Checking hearing ability with various tuning fork tests
  • Performing an ear culture if infection is suspected
  • Ordering a CT scan in severe cases to rule out underlying conditions

How is earwax blockage treated?

Treating earwax blockage focuses on safely removing the built-up wax to restore hearing and relieve symptoms. Treatment methods include:

Ear drops

Ear drops like carbamide peroxide and olive oil can soften and help loosen wax over several days. This may allow the wax to drain out on its own.

Ear irrigation

Ear irrigation involves using a pressurized water stream to irrigate and flush out the wax. This is done by a doctor in the office using an electronic irrigator.

Manual removal

For severe blockages, the doctor may manually remove the earwax using an instrument called a curette. This is inserted beyond the blockage to scoop out the wax.


This technique uses a specialized suction device instead of irrigation to suck out soft and hard wax under a microscope. It is extremely effective and safe for the ear.

Hearing aids

If hearing loss is chronic due to damaged ears, the doctor may recommend hearing aids after wax is removed. This amplifies sound and improves function.

Can you prevent earwax blockages?

It’s not always possible to prevent earwax blockages completely, especially if you are prone to producing excess wax. However, these prevention tips can be helpful:

  • Never use cotton swabs, bobby pins, or other items to clean ears – this forces wax deeper
  • Routinely flush ears with warm water in the shower
  • Apply mineral oil, glycerin, or OTC drops periodically to moisturize ear canals
  • Get ears cleaned professionally 1-2 times per year if prone to wax buildup
  • Avoid sticking anything in your ears, including headphones and hearing aids, as much as possible
  • Use earplugs sparingly and remove slowly to avoid compacting wax

Keeping ears dry also minimizes accumulation. Those prone to overproducing wax may need more frequent cleaning.

In conclusion

Earwax blockage is a common problem that can definitely cause noticeable symptoms. The most common sensations are muffled hearing, plugged ears, and mild pain or discomfort. Seeking medical advice is recommended if at-home treatment fails, hearing loss occurs, or blockages happen frequently. With the proper treatment approach, earwax impaction can usually be resolved safely and effectively. Being attentive to ear health and hygiene can also help reduce recurrent buildup.

Symptom Description
Plugged/Full feeling Sensation of the ears being plugged up or needing to pop
Hearing Loss Decreased ability to hear, especially in the blocked ear
Ear Pain Aching, pressure, or pain in the ear canal
Tinnitus Ringing, buzzing, roaring sound in the ears
Dizziness A sense of imbalance, lightheadedness, or vertigo
Cough Reflexive cough triggered by ear canal irritation
Itchiness Itchy sensation deep inside the ear
Foul Odor Unpleasant smell from decaying wax if chronic
Treatment Description
Ear Drops Help soften and loosen wax so it can drain out
Ear Irrigation Flushes out wax with pressurized water spray
Manual Removal Doctor uses curette tool to scoop out wax
Microsuction Suctions out wax particles under microscope
Hearing Aids Amplify sound in those with chronic hearing loss