Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Ear wax

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Ear wax is normal, and most people have it, but it can cause discomfort when it builds up in your ear.
  • Symptoms of ear wax build-up include earache, ringing noises and hearing problems.
  • Ear wax is made by ear canal glands to protect you from water or infection.
  • Doctors can see if you have ear wax build-up by simply checking your ear canal.
  • Do not stick anything into your ear, see a doctor if your ears are hurting.

What is ear wax?

Ear wax is wax that is and made by tiny glands in your ear canal. Ear wax is an important part of a normal functioning ear, and plays an important role in keeping your ears clean and healthy. The ear wax that you see is a mix of wax, skin cells and dirt.

Ear wax is also known as cerumen.

Ear wax build-up is not a medical condition unless it causes symptoms. If it builds up too much it can be uncomfortable and on rare occasions, can cause temporary hearing loss.

What are the symptoms of ear wax build-up?

Signs and symptoms of ear wax build-up include:

  • a full feeling in the ear
  • earache and pain, or itchiness — usually if there is an infection
  • ringing noises (also known as tinnitus)
  • hearing problems
  • dizziness

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes ear wax build-up?

Ear wax builds up when the self-cleaning process in your ear is disrupted. If wax builds up, it can become impacted (hard).

Some people are born with narrow ear canals or their ear canal may have an abnormal shape, which can get in the way of the ear's natural self-cleaning process.

Using foreign objects in the ear (such as cotton tips, hearing aids and ear plugs) can also limit the self-cleaning process, and encourage ear wax build-up over time.

Who is at risk of having a build-up of ear wax?

Some people naturally produce more ear wax than others — having a build-up of ear wax is not a sign of poor hygiene.

You might be more likely to have a build-up of ear wax if you:

  • have narrow or very hairy ear canals
  • work in dirty or dusty places
  • try and clean your ears yourself with cotton buds, which can push wax down into the ear
  • wear earplugs or a hearing aid regularly
  • are older, since wax gets harder with age and won't fall out as easily

When should I see a doctor?

You should see a doctor if you have a build-up of ear wax and:

  • you think your ears might be infected
  • you have hearing loss in one or both ears
  • you've had ear surgery or an injured eardrum in the past
  • your ear hasn't cleared up after 5 days

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is ear wax build-up diagnosed?

A simple ear examination by your doctor or practice nurse will let you know whether you have ear wax build-up.

If your doctor thinks your ear problem might be more serious, they will refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist for further investigation.

How is ear wax build-up treated?

Ear wax usually comes out on its own and doesn't need treatment. However, if you notice any build-up that's causing symptoms, there are some simple things you can do to help soften the wax:

  • put olive oil drops in your ear twice a day for 2 to 3 days
  • ask your pharmacist for wax-softening drops — these are made up of a mild and safe solution that softens the ear wax, so it falls out more easily

Do not:

  • try to pick the ear wax out with your fingers, cotton buds or any other object, because this can push the ear wax in further and might damage your ear
  • use ear candles to treat ear wax, since these can cause burns and damage to your eardrums

If you have a bigger build-up of ear wax or your ear is blocked, your doctor or practice nurse might use a syringe to remove the ear wax, using body-temperature water to float it out. If your ear is infected or injured, your doctor won't be able to syringe out the wax until your ear has healed.

Your doctor may also give you a referral to a specialist doctor or an ear, nose and throat (ENT) clinic if the wax is too hard, and they are unable to remove the ear wax with a syringe.

Can ear wax build-up be prevented?

You can't prevent ear wax — after all, it has an important job to do. There are some ways to stop build up:

  • Do not clean your ear canals with your fingertips, cotton bud or other objects.
  • Try to clean the outer part of your ear only.
  • If you have trouble with ongoing ear wax build-up, you can try using softening drops regularly to limit it.

Resources and support

If you feel like you have ear wax build-up that is causing you hearing loss, pain or discomfort speak with a pharmacist or your doctor.

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If English is not your main language and you would like an interpreter, call TIS National on 131 450 and ask to be transferred to NURSE-ON-CALL.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2023

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Understanding the Basics of Ear Wax

Learn about what ear wax is, why it forms, and how to effectively manage it for optimal ear health.

Read more on Ear Science Institute Australia website

Ear wax in children: what to do about it | Raising Children Network

Ear wax protects your child’s ear canal from water, infection and trauma. Ear wax build-up isn’t usually a problem, but see a GP if you’re concerned.

Read more on website

Ear Wax Removal - Ear Science Institute Australia

Ear wax, or cerumen, is naturally produced by the ear and plays a role in keeping our ears clean and protected from dust, bacteria and other microorganisms.

Read more on Ear Science Institute Australia website

Ear wax - Better Health Channel

In most cases, blockage of the ear canal with wax is a harmless event.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Earwax -

Earwax is quite harmless and a normal part of the body's self-protection mechanism. Earwax can be various colours from light yellow through to brown. Producing a lot of earwax is not a sign of poor hygiene.

Read more on myDr website

Ear problems -

Common ear problems include otitis media, glue ear, ear wax and swimmer's ear.

Read more on myDr website

Ear pulling & tugging: babies & children | Raising Children Network

Ear pulling or ear tugging in young children is very common. They might be tired or have ear wax or an ear infection. It’s usually nothing to worry about.

Read more on website

Ear problems: self-care -

Common ear problems include otitis media and glue ear (which mostly affect children), ear wax build-up and swimmer's ear (otitis externa). Find out what products are available for ear problems.

Read more on myDr website

Ears - Better Health Channel

The brain uses the inner ear, the eyes and muscles to pinpoint the position of the body at all times.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Conductive Hearing Loss - Ear Science Institute Australia

Damage to the outer or middle ear caused by an illness, ear infections, or blockage are the most common causes of conductive hearing loss. For us to hear and…

Read more on Ear Science Institute Australia website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Queensland Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.