Audiologists are used to hearing concerns about earwax. Many people tend to think of it as unpleasant or dangerous, but the truth is that it’s mostly beneficial. It protects the sensitive interiors of the ear and captures debris and bacteria that can otherwise cause infections. Most of the time, it cleans itself out when you move your mouth and jaw, such as when eating.

However, sometimes, it can build up to cause a blockage, also known as an impaction, which can be uncomfortable, painful and even possibly dangerous. Here’s when you should see your audiologist about an ear cleaning.

Your ear feels like it has a blockage

You may not be able to see inside your own ear, but you can feel many of the symptoms of a blockage. Some of the most common signs of an earwax buildup include partial or mild hearing loss, a full or clogged sensation in the ear and an itchy or otherwise irritated feeling inside the canal. These can be some of the earliest signs of an impaction. If you make an appointment with the audiologist, they can take a closer look and confirm what the issue is. If they see a building impaction, as you might suspect, then they can clean it safely.

You have any of these severe symptoms

Some symptoms of an impaction are more serious than others and require you to act on them as soon as possible. Besides being irritating, impactions can be potentially dangerous, leading to ear infections and damage to the interior of the ear. If you suffer any pain, fevers, tinnitus, dizziness, or loss of balance, you should make an appointment as soon as possible. Earwax may be important to your hearing health, but if you let an impaction go untreated, it can result in permanent hearing loss as well as permanent damage to the sensitive structures within the ear. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to use cotton buds or any other small objects to clean out the wax, as this can very easily worsen the impaction.

You are prone to earwax impactions and have suffered them on a regular basis

Some people produce more earwax than others. Rather than trying to clean it yourself, it’s much safer to see the audiologist when you’re concerned about it happening again. People who tend to suffer earwax impactions more regularly include men and older adults. If you wear a hearing aid, you may find it gets in the way of your earwax’s ability to clean itself, too. If you have a history of earwax impactions, then preventive cleaning every six months to one year is a safe way to stay on top of it.

Avoid attempting to clean your ears at home and try not to worry about it unless you’re concerned you have a blockage, also known as an impaction. When that happens, make an appointment with the audiologist instead of using home remedies like ear candling and cotton swabs, which can be very dangerous.