Earwax Blockage or Hearing Loss? How to Tell the Difference

Audiologist performing an ear examination on middle aged male

Healthcare professionals who perform earwax removal play a critical role in identifying and treating conditions related to hearing. However, the symptoms of hearing loss can easily be confused with those of earwax build-up, making accurate diagnosis and treatment challenging. In this article, we’ll discuss how to differentiate between earwax build-up and hearing loss and provide tips for identifying and addressing each condition. Whether you’re new to the field of ear care or a seasoned professional, this blog post will provide valuable insights to help improve patient outcomes.

Understanding Earwax

Earwax, also known as cerumen, is a natural substance produced by the ear canal to protect and lubricate the ear. It’s composed of dead skin cells, oil, and sweat, and serves as a natural barrier against bacteria, dirt, and other foreign objects. However, excessive build-up of earwax can cause a blockage, leading to symptoms such as ear pain, dizziness, and hearing loss.

It’s important to note that earwax build-up is a common condition that affects many people, particularly older adults and those who wear hearing aids or earplugs. The symptoms of earwax build-up can vary depending on the severity of the blockage, but may include:

  • Ear pain or discomfort
  • Difficulty hearing
  • Ringing or buzzing in the ear (tinnitus)
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Itching or discharge from the ear

If you suspect that a patient has earwax build-up, it’s important to perform a thorough examination of the ear to confirm this.

Female hearing care professional examining elderly patient's ear

Understanding Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is a common condition that can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, aging, noise exposure, and certain medical conditions. It can range from mild to severe and can affect one or both ears.

The symptoms of hearing loss can vary depending on the cause and severity of the condition, but may include:

  • Difficulty understanding speech, especially in noisy environments
  • Needing to turn up the volume on the TV or radio
  • Frequently asking people to repeat themselves
  • Avoiding social situations due to difficulty hearing
  • Tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ear)

If left untreated, hearing loss can have a significant impact on a patient’s quality of life, leading to social isolation, depression, and cognitive decline.

Senior woman struggling to hear

Differentiating Earwax Build-up and Hearing Loss

Earwax build-up and hearing loss can share some similar symptoms, which can make it challenging to differentiate between the two. However, there are some key differences to look out for:

  • Earwax build-up typically causes a feeling of fullness or blockage in the ear, whereas hearing loss may be accompanied by tinnitus or difficulty understanding speech.
  • Earwax build-up is often accompanied by a decrease in hearing sensitivity that can be easily remedied with earwax removal, whereas hearing loss may be more permanent and require a more involved treatment plan.
  • Earwax build-up usually occurs in one ear at a time, whereas hearing loss is often bilateral (affecting both ears).

As healthcare professionals who perform earwax removal, it’s important to be able to differentiate between these two conditions in order to provide the appropriate treatment. In some cases, patients may have both earwax build-up and hearing loss, which can further complicate the diagnosis.

Best Practices for Earwax Removal

It’s important to follow best practices when performing earwax removal to ensure patient safety and comfort. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Properly examine the ear: Before performing earwax removal, it’s important to thoroughly examine the ear to determine the location and extent of the earwax build-up. This can help you choose the best method for removal and avoid potential complications.
  • Use appropriate tools and techniques: There are several methods for earwax removal, including irrigation, manual removal, and suction. It’s important to choose the appropriate method based on the patient’s individual needs and preferences. At Meduc8ion, we offer a comprehensive Earwax Removal course that trains healthcare professionals in performing all three methods.
  • Follow hygiene protocols: When performing earwax removal, it’s important to follow proper hygiene protocols to prevent infection and cross-contamination. This includes using sterile equipment, wearing gloves, and properly disposing of any used materials.
  • Communicate with the patient: Before, during, and after earwax removal, it’s important to communicate with the patient to ensure their comfort and understanding of the procedure. This includes explaining the process, addressing any concerns or questions, and providing aftercare instructions.

By following these best practices, healthcare professionals can provide safe and effective earwax removal services to their patients.

Audiologist performing water irrigation on patient

The Importance of Referral and Collaboration

It’s vital for healthcare professionals to recognise the limitations of their own expertise and to know when to refer patients to other specialists. In the case of earwax build-up or hearing loss, it’s crucial to work collaboratively with audiologists and other hearing care professionals to provide comprehensive care for patients.

If during the earwax removal process, a healthcare professional suspects that a patient may have hearing loss, it’s important to refer them to an audiologist for a hearing evaluation. The audiologist can then determine the extent and type of hearing loss and recommend appropriate interventions, such as hearing aids or cochlear implants.

On the other hand, if a patient visits an audiologist with complaints of hearing loss, the audiologist should examine the patient’s ears for earwax build-up before making a diagnosis. This is because, as mentioned above, earwax build-up can often mimic the symptoms of hearing loss, leading to an incorrect diagnosis and unnecessary interventions.

Collaboration between healthcare professionals can lead to more accurate diagnoses and better patient outcomes hence why it is essential that healthcare professionals develop the skills and knowledge needed to work collaboratively and provide comprehensive care for their patients.

Doctor and patient having a conversation


Understanding the differences between earwax build-up and hearing loss is essential for healthcare professionals who perform earwax removal or work with patients who may have hearing loss. By recognising the symptoms and characteristics of each condition, healthcare professionals can make more accurate diagnoses and provide appropriate interventions.

If you’re interested in expanding your knowledge of earwax removal or hearing care, we invite you to explore our courses and book your spot today. Our courses are designed to provide you with the latest information and hands-on training in the field, so you can offer the highest standard of care to your patients.

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