What Causes Earwax Buildup

Earwax buildup happens when your ear makes earwax faster than your body can remove it. In most people, a small amount of earwax regularly makes its way to the ear opening. At the opening, it’s washed away or falls out as new wax replaces it. If your ears make too much wax or if earwax isn’t cleared well enough, it may build up and block your ear canal.

Earwax blockages often happen when people try to get earwax out on their own by using cotton swabs or other items in their ears. This usually just pushes wax deeper into the ear, rather than removing it.

Earwax buildup can happen with many health conditions, such as:

  • Bony blockage (osteoma or exostoses)
  • Infectious disease, such as swimmer’s ear (external otitis)
  • Skin disease (such as eczema)
  • Autoimmune disease (such as lupus)
  • Narrowed ear canal (from birth, chronic inflammation, or injury)
  • Making too much earwax due to injury

Some of these conditions cause a physical blockage. Others cause more earwax to be made. In some cases, the cause of impacted earwax isn’t known.

Objects placed in your ear can also lead to Earwax buildup or impacted earwax, especially if done repeatedly. This is more likely in children and young people who have no other problems with their ear canals. For example, if you use cotton swabs to remove earwax, you may push the wax deeper into your canal. Over time, this may cause complete blockage. Hearing aids, swimming plugs, and swim molds can have a similar effect with repeated use.

Risk Factors

You may increase your risk if you keep putting objects in your ear, such as a hearing aid. Older adults and people with thinking (cognitive) problems also have an increased risk.