​Normal ear wax will find its way out of the ear canal and fall out naturally. But if you get the sensation that your ear is plugged or that your hearing is getting worse, have your ears checked for possible ear wax impaction, known medically as cerumen impaction.

Ear wax can become impacted if it is firmly lodged in the ear canal. When wax builds-up and hardens, it can block the ear canal and cause sharp ear pain, ringing in the ears, and partial hearing loss.

"Impacted ear wax can happen to anyone, but children have narrower ear canals and often, are unable to articulate their discomfort fully," says Associate Professor Low Wong Kein, Visiting Senior Consultant, Centre for Hearing and Ear Implants, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.

What is ear wax?

Ear wax is this sticky, yellowish-brownish substance that is naturally produced by glands lining the skin of the outer ear canal. The outer ear canal is the area between the cup of the ear and the middle ear.

The wax not only lubricates the ear canal, it also prevents dust, bacteria, and dirt particles from invading and damaging the ear canal and eardrum.

What causes impacted ear wax?

Children and adults who produce excessive ear wax are more prone to having impacted ear wax because it tends to accumulate and build up. The ear wax hardens and may even block the ear canal completely.

Sometimes, ear wax gets pushed deeper into the ear canal when cotton buds are used to clean the ears. Those wearing hearing aids or ear plugs are more likely to get ear wax blockage.

When ear wax in the ear canal comes into contact with water after a shower or swim, the ear wax may expand and block up the ear canal.

Signs of impacted ear wax in children

The following signs and symptoms may mean that your child has impacted ear wax:

  • Tugging at the ears
  • Trouble hearing
  • Complaints of ear pain
  • Complaints of ears being plugged

Treatment for impacted ear wax

Place a few drops of mineral oil, baby oil or glycerin into the ear twice a day to loosen the impacted ear wax. Then, lie on one side and allow the oil to flow out.

If this home remedy does not work, see a medical doctor who has the necessary tools to remove ear wax safely, such as a special water syringe to flush it out.

Tips on preventing impacted ear wax in children

  • Do not insert cotton buds, your finger or any instrument to remove your child’s ear wax.
  • Dry your child’s ears after a swim or shower.
  • Gently clean the outside of your child’s ear with a wet cloth.

"Children commonly have some sort of ENT problems but rarely does ear wax block the ear canal completely or cause ear infections," says A/Professor Low. "Seek immediate medical help if the child has ear discharge, pain or hearing loss".

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