Earwax is a waxy material produced by sebaceous glands inside the ear. It cleans, lubricates and protects the lining of the ear by trapping dirt and repelling water.
Earwax is slightly acidic and has antibacterial properties. Without earwax, the skin inside your ear would become dry, cracked, infected or waterlogged and sore.
Earwax can be wet or dry and hard or soft. Soft earwax is more common in children and hard earwax is more likely to cause problems. Dry earwax is golden and flaky and more common in people of Asian origin.
Earwax doesn't usually cause problems. However, producing too much earwax can lead to a blocked and painful ear or hearing loss.
Read more about the symptoms of earwax.
Having repeated ear infections, flaky skin near your ear, or hair in your ear canals can also put you at risk of developing problems with your earwax.
To reduce your risk of developing problems with your ears, avoid putting objects in your ears, such as cotton buds, matchsticks and hairpins. As well as risking damage to your ear canal or eardrum, sticking things in your ears can result in earwax becoming lodged in your ear canal.
Every year in the UK, over two million people have problems with earwax and need it removed.
Read more about what causes earwax problems.
What you can do
Eardrops, available from your pharmacy, can be used to soften and loosen the earwax which may help it to work its way out naturally. Speak to your pharmacist about which eardrops are suitable for you.
Resist the temptation to stick cotton buds in your ears as this can push the earwax further into your ears.
When to see your GP
Visit your GP if you are having problems with earwax. If you have a large amount of earwax, it may need to be removed.
If eardrops haven't worked, another treatment called ear irrigation may be recommended. It involves using a pressurised flow of water to remove the build-up of earwax.
Do not attempt to remove earwax yourself, without first speaking to your GP.
Read more about how earwax is treated.