As TV doctor Dawn Harper is forced to apologise after recommending the now widely discredited ear candle method to a radio listener, we look at what ear wax is, how it builds up, and how you can treat it safely.

What is earwax?

The whole point of earwax, which builds up naturally in the ear canal, is to keep your ears clean, hygienic and protected from germs. Its official name is “cerumen” and is a yellow substance that, as you’d guess, has the consistency and texture of wax.

Why does earwax build up?

It’s when your body produces too much earwax that you may have a problem. It can build up, harden, and then get stuck in the ear canal, blocking it in the process. Whether this happens to you can be down to a number of factors including:

- Genetics – some people just naturally produce more, or harder, earwax than others, or have narrow ear canals which get blocked more quickly

- Dirt – if you work or live somewhere that has a lot of dust and dirt swirling about in the air, your body may produce more wax to compensate and protect them

- Human intervention – if you wear headphones and listen to loud music, or if you have tried to remove wax previously by sticking something down your ear and damaged it in the process, your ears may react by producing more earwax

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Symptoms of earwax build up

Suffering with tinnitus, earache, hearing loss, itchy ears, vertigo or repeated ear infections? These may all be due to a build up of earwax. However, you should always get these checked by your GP in case some underlying condition is also at play.

How to get rid of earwax build up

So, while ear candles (when a tube of muslin is placed in the ear and then burned, which supposedly loosens and sucks out the wax) are still popular, they are not ideal – and neither are cotton buds! Instead, try over the counter ear drops which are used to soften the wax, alternatively, the ear can be irrigated with water, which is pumped in to clear it.

There are also devices which can suck and scrape out wax, but always check with your pharmacist before experimenting.

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How to stop earwax building up

Steer clear of cottonbuds and instead wash your ears out with hot water every other week while you’re in the shower, and protect your ears from excess noise and avoid air swirling with dirt and dust if at all possible.

Do you struggle with excess earwax? Tell us about it in the comments below…