Earwax is present to protect your ears from dirt and germs. 

It does not need removal if it is not causing any symptoms. 

Earwax build-up

Earwax normally just falls out on its own without the need for any medical intervention. When it’s blocking your ears, a pharmacist can help.

Symptoms of earwax build-up include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Earache or a feeling that your ears are blocked
  • Ringing or buzzing in your ears (tinnitus)
  • Vertigo (feeling dizzy and sick)

Causes of earwax build-up

A build-up of earwax can happen if:

  • You have narrow or damaged ear canals
  • You have lots of hair in your ear canals
  • You have a skin condition affecting your scalp or around your ear
  • You have inflammation of your ear canal (otitis externa or “swimmer’s ear”)

You cannot prevent earwax. It’s there to protect your ears from dirt and germs.

But you can keep using eardrops for a few days to soften the wax. This will help it fall out on its own and should prevent blocked ears.

How you can treat earwax build-up yourself

Do not use your fingers or any objects like cotton buds to remove earwax. This will push it in and make it worse.

Earwax usually falls out on its own. If it does not and blocks your ear, put 2 to 3 drops of medical grade olive or almond oil in your ear 3 to 4 times a day. Do this for up to 2 weeks.

To use ear drops:

  1. Allow the oil to come to room temperature naturally. Do not heat the oil.
  2. Lie on your side with the affected ear facing upwards. Pull the ear gently backwards and upwards to open and straighten the ear canal. This will allow the drops to enter deeper into the ear.
  3. Carefully let three droplets of olive oil fall into your ear. You may find it helpful to have somebody help you.
  4. Gently massage the area directly in front of the ear.
  5. Lie still for at least five minutes to ensure the ear drops have penetrated properly.
  6. If you need to treat both ears, turn over onto your other side and repeat the process.

Over about 2 weeks, lumps of earwax should fall out of your ear, especially at night when you’re lying down.

There is no evidence that ear candles or ear vacuums get rid of earwax. Syringing is rarely necessary and is best avoided as it causes trauma to the ear canal which leads to infections.

A pharmacist can help with earwax build-up

Speak to a pharmacist about earwax build-up. They can give advice and suggest treatments.

They might recommend medicines to dissolve the earwax. The earwax should fall out on its own or dissolve after about a week. As the wax softens and swells you may temporarily feel more blocked but it will soon pass as the wax comes out.

Do not use drops if you have a hole in your eardrum (a perforated eardrum).

See a nurse at your GP practice if:

  • Your symptoms have not started to improve after 5 days


  • Your ear is badly blocked and you cannot hear anything (very rarely you can get an infection if it has not cleared)

The nurse can assess whether there is an infection or if further drops are necessary.

Rarely patients will have problems with their ear canals and wax build up and require regular cleaning. When this is necessary it is done at the hospital using microsuction under direct vision with a microscope.

Microsuction is increasingly being offered in private hearing clinics – you will have to pay to have this done privately, but it is preferred over syringing.

Page updated: 11 July, 2023