Impacted earwax

What is Impacted earwax?

Earwax in small amounts is good for the ear. It protects the ear by gathering dead skin, hair and dirt as it moves from the inside of the ear outwards. Hence it is a natural cleanser for the ear. It also has antibacterial and antifungal properties. Earwax will move out of the ear on its own as we chew or talk. The jaw is located below the ear canal and movement of the jaw will help move the wax outwards. However, sometimes, earwax can block up the ear canal. Earwax buildup (Figure 1a-d) that fails to clear on its own is usually due to these reasons:

  • Ear digging with a cotton bud or an ear pick
  • Excessive earwax production
  • Dry skin in the ear canal
  • Small ear canal
  • Frequent wearing of hearing aid or ear plugs


Many people have the habit of cleaning the ear canal with a cotton bud. This should not be done. The cotton bud is designed to clean or dry up fluid outside the ear canal (Figure 2a). It is not meant to be inserted into the ear canal (Figure 2b). The cotton bud is too big for the ear canal and insertion into the ear canal will only push the earwax and debris deeper against the ear drum. When this happen, the earwax will be jam-packed against the ear drum (Figure 3a) and the self-cleansing mechanism of the ear will fail. In some cases, patients may scratch the lining of the ear canal resulting in an ear infection, puncture the ear drum (Figure 3b) or even have the tip of the cotton bud stuck in the ear canal.

Ear Wax Image


If you have an impacted ear wax, you may have decreased hearing level in that ear, ear discomfort or pain or a secondary ear infection. You should get your ear examined by a doctor and you may benefit from removal of ear wax under microscope guidance.

When Should You See an ENT Specialist in Singapore?

  • Any ear, nose or throat symptoms that you are troubled with or concerned about
  • Persistent blocked nose with mouth breathing or snoring

Dr Gan provides a comprehensive management in a broad array of Ear, Nose and Throat as well as Head & Neck conditions. He has a special interest in treating various nose and sinus conditions including snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA)

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