Ear wax 101 with Dr Laura Carter

What is ear wax and what causes it to build up?

Ear wax, also called cerumen, is produced by glands in the ear canal. It serves as a natural barrier to protect our ears by trapping dust, bacteria, and other debris. Typically, the wax migrates out of the ear freely, as the skin cells lining the ear canal grow in an outward direction. However, it can sometimes build up excessively, even to the point of impaction. Some people are more prone to this than others. Wearing hearing aids, frequently using ear plugs or ear buds, and having narrow ear canals can prevent wax from shedding out of the ear naturally. Using items like cotton buds to attempt to remove wax can also cause impaction by pushing wax deeper into the canal.

What to do if you suspect a buildup of wax

Signs of wax impaction include muffled hearing, tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ear), itchiness, and a feeling of fullness in the ear. Sometimes people use drops or other remedies to attempt to remove the wax at home. Unfortunately, these often do not clear the wax and can potentially make the problem worse. Visiting a healthcare professional is the best course of action if you suspect a wax impaction. Under appropriate lighting and magnification (such as a microscope), a healthcare provider can use methods including microsuction, irrigation, or a small instrument called a curette.

What is microsuction?

Microsuction is a gentle and effective method for wax removal in which the clinician uses a suction device to pull the wax out while viewing the ear canal through a microscope. Since the clinician is able to maintain a clear view of the ear canal throughout the procedure, microsuction tends to be safer than other methods of wax removal. The procedure should be painless, so let your clinician know if you experience any discomfort. Your clinician will explain how to properly care for the ears after the procedure.

Should I use drops before microsuction?

Some methods of wax removal, like irrigation, require the wax to be softened using drops before the procedure. With microsuction, it is best to avoid putting any drops in your ear before your appointment. Depending on the texture of the wax, using drops (or using the wrong type of drops) can make the procedure more difficult. Your clinician may use some drops after examining the ear and determining which type of drop will be most appropriate.


Impacted ear wax can be unpleasant but treated easily by a trained professional. You can book your next microsuction appointment here. https://www.thehearingsuite.co.uk/wax-removal-appointments


-Dr Laura