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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

What Is It?

In the outer part of the ear canal, cells produce a wax called cerumen that traps particles of dust and dirt. The wax also repels water, protecting the delicate eardrum from damage. The wax is moved outward gradually by the lining of the ear canal, carrying any dirt it has trapped. Eventually, the wax dries and falls out of the ear in small, unnoticeable flakes.

Normal production of earwax is healthy and good for your ears. If too much wax is being produced, it can block the ear, but more commonly, the ear becomes blocked because of improper ear care and ear cleaning. If you push cotton swabs, pencils, your finger or other objects into your ear canal to try to remove wax, the force can push the wax further into the ear and compress it against the eardrum. Earwax blockage, also called cerumen impaction, is a common cause of temporary hearing loss.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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