Tinnitus & Earwax

Tinnitus is the word for noises that some people hear in one ear, both ears or in their head, which don’t have an external source. The noises can be buzzing, ringing, whistling, hissing and other sounds. If you’ve only recently begun suffering from tinnitus, your problem may lie in your ear canal. In fact, earwax is the most common cause of temporary tinnitus.

In our experience, tinnitus from earwax is usually caused when the ear becomes completely blocked or the wax has been pushed deeper into the canal. Earwax is only produced in the outer two thirds of the ear canal so to get close to the ear drum it has usually been pushed in. Pushing objects like cotton swabs and hair pins into the ear can go wrong very quickly resulting in:

  • Pain or discomfort
  • Hearing loss
  • Tinnitus
  • Infections
  • Perforations
  • Dizziness

Buildup of earwax in the ear canal can cause a variety of problems, including tinnitus. However, how are earwax and tinnitus related, and can earwax removal methods cause tinnitus? You may develop mild tinnitus for the first time if you have a build-up of ear wax, but this normally goes away once the excess wax has been removed.

Earwax or cerumen is made up of oily excretions of fatty acids and sebum and also contains skin particles and proteins. It acts as a sticky barrier protecting the outer ear canal from dirt and bacteria. With the natural movements of the jaw and the ear canal's outward skin migration, earwax usually falls out on its own. But when someone’s glands produce too much earwax or the anatomy of the ear is prone to holding onto wax, it can cause a blockage. 


How Does Earwax Cause Tinnitus?

There are a few theories as to how earwax causes tinnitus:

  • If you have tinnitus in an ear that gets blocked with wax, you may notice your tinnitus more. This is because you won’t be able to hear as many of the environmental sounds that normally help to mask the tinnitus.
  • If the blockage touches the eardrum, it can change the pressure and affect the way the drum vibrates. This may be the cause of tinnitus or a worsening of an already present tinnitus sound.

Once the wax is removed, your tinnitus should return to its previous level. You may experience immediate relief from your new found tinnitus or it may take up to a few weeks to disappear. Beyond eardrops, earwax removal methods are not meant to be done at home, and should never be done by anyone other than a professional.

Procedures to Remove Earwax Blockages

There are three main methods used to remove earwax. All of these could be dangerous if done irresponsibly, and should only be attempted by an experienced and qualified practitioner. All TinnitusUK Advice & Treatment Centres are able to remove wax using a combination of techniques.

Microsuction

Microsuction is now probably the most common method in private practice. A microscope or loupes are used to magnify the inside of the ear canal, and the earwax is removed using a small suction device. Many will argue that it is the safest way to remove wax based on the facts that the practitioner can see what they are doing as they do it and the ear is kept dry significantly reducing the risk of infection.

Irrigation

Irrigation is another safe method as long as the jet of water is kept away from the ear drum. It is excellent for removing softer wax and wax that has found it's way onto the eardrum. There is an increased risk of infection from the water and it should not be used on people with perforated eardrums, grommets, diabetes or a reduced immune system.

Aural Toilet

Microsuction is extremely gentle and therefore for harder and more impacted wax, long thin tools that resemble miniature hooks and scoops can be used to apply a little more force. Special forceps may also be used. Although this procedure is a dry method like microsuction, there is a slightly higher risk of infection and light trauma to the skin lining of the ear canal.