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Ear wax has an important job. It’s a filter for the ear, trapping dust and dirt when they get into the ear canal.

Ear wax (cerumen) comes from glands in the ear canal. When it’s first made, this wax is soft and colourless. When it comes into contact with air, it gets harder and becomes yellowish-brown.

Chewing usually moves the wax out of the ear, as does the constant renewal of the ear canal’s lining. But sometimes a build-up of wax can block the ear canal, and might cause discomfort and earache. This can sometimes interfere with hearing too.

Ear wax can be softened using drops available from the chemist.

Your child might have to use drops on a regular basis to prevent a build-up of wax. Sometimes your doctor will use a special syringe to flush out wax that’s blocking your child’s ear.

Using a cotton bud to remove wax inside the ear canal can easily cause damage because it can push the wax deeper inside the ear. You should avoid using cotton buds in your young child’s ear.
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  • Last Updated 23-06-2011
  • Last Reviewed 13-05-2011
  • Kerschner, J.E. (2007). Otitis media. In R. Kliegman, R. Behrman, H. Jenson & B. Stanton (Eds), Nelson textbook of pediatrics (18th edn, pp. 2632-2645). Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.

    Yoon, P.J., Kelley, P.E., & Friedman, N.R. (2009). Ear, nose and throat. In W. Hay, M. Levin, J. Sondheimer & R. Deterding (Eds), Current diagnosis and treatment: Pediatrics (20th edn, pp. 452-486). New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (2010). Ear wax blockage. Retrieved on 12 January 2011, from

    Clegg, A.J., Loveman, E., Gospodarevskaya, E., Harris, P., Bird, A., Bryant, J., Scott, D.A., Davidson, P., Little, P., & Coppin, R. (2010). The safety and effectiveness of different methods of earwax removal: a systematic review and economic evaluation. Health Technology Assessment, 14(28), 1-192.

    Bereznicki, L. & Peterson, G. (2008). External ear problems. Australian Pharmacist, 27(1), 838-843.

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