You probably don’t spend much time thinking about ear wax unless it’s causing you problems, but this substance actually plays an important role in good health.\nTechnically known as cerumen, ear wax is beneficial in normal amounts and is part of your body’s self-cleaning mechanism. Produced in the outer third of the ear canal, this yellowish, waxy substance consists of dead skin cells, hair, and secretions from the sebaceous glands outside the ear.\nEar wax acts as lubrication for the ear \u2014 without it, your ears can get dry and itchy. It also offers protection, helping to keep insects, water, and other invaders out of the ear. Ear wax has even been found to have antimicrobial properties. It can also reduce some types of bacteria and fungi.\nDespite these benefits, ear wax also causes some problems. Normally, old ear wax moves out of the ear canal to the opening of the ear, where it dries up, flakes away, and falls out. Movements such as chewing help facilitate this process. But for some people, earwax can accumulate, causing symptoms.\nToo Much Ear Wax? You May Have a Blockage\nBecause your ears are self-cleaning, you ideally shouldn’t need to remove wax yourself. In fact, typical methods for removing ear wax at home\u00a0\u2014 using everything from cotton swabs and facial tissues to implements such as bobby pins \u2014 can do far more harm than good. Probing your ear in an attempt to remove ear wax can actually force the substance farther into the canal. The result is usually a blockage, known as a cerumen impaction.\nEar Wax Blockage Symptoms\nThis blockage of ear wax can cause symptoms including:\n\nFeeling of fullness in the ear\nPain or aching\nItching\nPartial hearing loss\nDischarge\nBuzzing or ringing sounds in the ear (tinnitus)\n\nIf you develop a blockage, you may be able to treat it at home, using products that soften ear wax. These include putting a few drops of mineral oil, baby oil, or over-the-counter ear drops (such as Debrox) in the ear.\nYou can also cleanse and irrigate the ear with a syringe filled with water or saline. (Be sure the water is warmed to room temperature to prevent dizziness.) Never use cotton swabs or other utensils \u2014 including so-called ear candles \u2014 to “clean” your ears. They can do more harm than good.\nFor more information on how to clean your ears safely, check out our blog post on how to properly clean out your ears. If you still experience symptoms, see your health practitioner. He or she can remove the ear wax using suction, irrigation, or other manual approaches.