When to have a Professional Ear Cleaning

Woman touching ear

While you may not think of it as beneficial, earwax is actually a good thing! Earwax is the cleaning agent that keeps dirt out of our ears, lubricates the ear canal, and doesn’t really need much help to exit. That means that if everything is working properly, you shouldn’t have to do much more than wipe excess earwax from your outer ear every day or two. However, some people overproduce earwax, possibly leading to hearing problems and pain. Sometimes an earwax blockage can’t be removed at home. That’s when to have a professional ear cleaning.

Earwax impaction

Audiologists say this is the most common problem they see – a blockage of earwax near the eardrum causing pain and pressure. What leads to earwax impaction? For some people, it’s an overproduction of earwax which is commonly genetic. For others, it’s exposure to large amounts of dust, debris, or pollen. But for many people, it’s due to improper ear cleaning. It’s misleading to think that cotton swabs are actually clearing your ears of wax when in fact, it’s just the opposite! Cotton swabs and other long narrow objects are not made to be inserted into the ear canal. When you use a cotton swab to “clean” your ear, you’re essentially pushing earwax back into the ear canal, which can cause a build-up. Earwax impactions also may occur in people who wear hearing aids or earplugs.


An earwax blockage can feel heavy in the ear, you may have the sensation of muffled hearing or hearing “underwater”. Sometimes people experience dizziness, ringing in the ears, and coughing. An impaction with an infection will cause your ear to become red and painful. If you try safe earwax removal methods at home that don’t solve the problem, you will have to see an audiologist for a professional cleaning.

Cleaning methods

There are several ways your audiologist may clear your ears of wax. These include: eardrops, curette, irrigation, or suction. Depending upon the blockage, your audiologist may use eardrops to soften the wax prior to another method of removal. He or she may also give you ear drops to use at home. An in-office procedure for less severe cases uses a curette to scoop out the wax. Those with harder or deeper blockages may have irrigation performed. Pressurized water is blasted at the blockage to break it up. Another method involves a tiny tube attached to a suction machine. The tube is inserted into the ear canal to remove excess wax.

There are times when it’s safe and efficient to clean your ears at home. Usually, a small earwax blockage can be cleared with some mineral oil, baby oil, or warm water. But it’s time to have a professional ear cleaning when there’s any pain or you have problems hearing. Remember that a daily attempt to “clean” your ears by inserting a cotton swab in the ear canal does more harm than good and typically causes an earwax blockage.