Merck Manual

Please confirm that you are not located inside the Russian Federation

honeypot link

Ear Blockages


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Reviewed/Revised Mar 2022 | Modified Sep 2022
Get the full details
Topic Resources

What is an ear blockage?

An ear blockage is something stuck in your ear canal. The ear canal is the tube that connects the outside of your ear to your eardrum.

  • An ear blockage can be uncomfortable, painful, and make it hard to hear

  • Doctors need to remove an object blocking your ear

Don’t try to remove objects from your own ear or someone else's—you could push the object in further or harm the eardrum. See a doctor.

The Outer Ear

The Outer Ear

What causes an ear blockage?

An ear blockage can be caused by something that naturally builds up in the ear canal, such as:

  • Ear wax

  • Scar tissue, after an injury

An ear blockage can also be caused by something that doesn’t belong in the ear canal, such as:

  • A small object (for example, a bead, bean, or piece of food) that children may put in their ear

  • An insect

What are the symptoms of an ear blockage?

Ear blockages cause symptoms such as:

  • Itching

  • Pain

  • Feeling of fullness in your ear

  • Loss of hearing

Objects that don't belong in your ear can cause infection after a few days of being there. An infection causes pain and thick, bad-smelling fluid to drain from your ear.

How do doctors treat an ear blockage?

If you have hearing loss, doctors may test your hearing both before and after taking out the blockage to see if your hearing has improved.

Taking out earwax

Doctors will:

  • Put hydrogen peroxide, glycerin, or mineral oil in your ear to soften your earwax

  • Take out the earwax using a special earwax tool, a suction tool, or irrigation (flooding your ear with water to flush out the earwax)

If you have a narrow ear canal, sticky or thick earwax, or a long-term skin problem in your ear canal, you may need to see a doctor for regular earwax cleaning to prevent more ear blockages.

Don't try to remove earwax at home with cotton swabs, bobby pins, pencils, or ear candles—this will push the earwax deeper in your ear canal and may injure your eardrum or cause an infection.

Taking out objects from the ear

It’s best to have a doctor remove objects from the ear. Some objects are hard to remove and should be taken out by an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT).

  • Doctors remove the object using a microscope and special tools, such as a small hook or forceps

  • If you have an insect in your ear, doctors will put mineral oil or lidocaine in your ear canal to kill the insect, then remove it

  • Doctors may give children medicine to make them sleepy, so they'll keep still while doctors take out the object—this lowers the chance of harm to the ear

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Generic Name Select Brand Names
Colace Glycerin, Fleet, Fleet Pedia-Lax, HydroGel, Introl , Lubrin, Orajel Dry Mouth, Osmoglyn, Sani-Supp
Fleet, Kondremul, Liqui-Doss, Muri-Lube
7T Lido, Akten , ALOCANE, ANASTIA, AneCream, Anestacon, Aspercreme with Lidocaine, AsperFlex, Astero , BenGay, Blue Tube, Blue-Emu, CidalEaze, DermacinRx Lidocan III, DermacinRx Lidogel, DermacinRx Lidorex, DERMALID, Ela-Max, GEN7T, Glydo, Gold Bond, LidaFlex, LidaMantle, Lidocan, Lidocare, Lidoderm, LidoDose, LidoDose Pediatric, Lidofore, LidoHeal-90, LIDO-K , LidoLite, Lidomar , Lidomark, LidoPure, LidoReal-30, LidoRx, Lidosense 4 , Lidosense 5, Lidosol, Lidosol-50, LIDO-SORB, Lidotral, Lidovix L, LIDOZION, Lidozo, LMX 4, LMX 4 with Tegaderm, LMX 5, LTA, Lydexa, Moxicaine, Numbonex, ReadySharp Lidocaine, RectaSmoothe, RectiCare, Salonpas Lidocaine, Senatec, Solarcaine, SUN BURNT PLUS, Tranzarel, Xyliderm, Xylocaine, Xylocaine Dental, Xylocaine in Dextrose, Xylocaine MPF, Xylocaine Topical, Xylocaine Topical Jelly, Xylocaine Topical Solution, Xylocaine Viscous, Zilactin-L, Zingo, Zionodi, ZTlido
quiz link

Test your knowledge

Take a Quiz!