How does earwax contribute to hearing loss?

David M. Vernick, MD
Ear, Nose & Throat (Otolaryngology)
Earwax is a normal, healthy secretion in the outer ear that protects the ear from damaging substances like water, dirt, and germs. But if too much earwax builds up and becomes impacted in the ear canal or around the eardrum, it can cause conductive hearing loss (caused by a blockage of sound transmission through the outer ear or the middle ear that prevents sound waves from passing through to the inner ear). The problem becomes more common with age because earwax becomes drier, and the drier it is, the more likely it is to become impacted.

The tendency to have dry earwax is also inherited; a study published in Nature Genetics linked it to a variant of the ABCC11 gene. But regardless of your age and genetic profile, anything that pushes earwax down the ear canal can impair hearing. For example, while cleaning earwax from the outer ear, you may inadvertently push some deeper into the ear. Sometimes wearing a hearing aid causes the problem by forcing earwax from the outer ear deeper into the ear canal. In addition to interfering with hearing, a buildup of earwax often causes discomfort or a feeling of pressure in the ear.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Another cause of age-related hearing loss is that your ear canal can have more wax than a surf shop. As we age, ear wax simply gets drier and thicker. Designed to protect your eardrum, wax is supposed to help you by trapping dirt, dust, bugs, and friendly fingers before they reach your eardrum. Wax also helps prevent infections. But too much of a wax buildup works as a roadblock in your ear canal. If the sound waves can't muscle past the wax and onto the drum, they can't start the vibration process that allows your brain to process those sounds, so you experience some hearing loss.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.