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Earwax, also known by the medical term cerumen, is a yellowish, waxy substance secreted in the ear canal of humans and many other mammals. It plays an important role in the human ear canal, assisting in cleaning and lubrication, and also provides some protection from bacteria, fungi, and insects. Excess or impacted cerumen can press against the eardrum and/or occlude the external auditory canal and impair hearing.
Excessive cerumen may impede the passage of sound in the ear canal, causing conductive hearing loss. It is also estimated to be the cause of 60–80% of hearing aid faults. As mentioned above, movement of the jaw helps the ears' natural cleaning process, so chewing gum and talking can both help. If this is insufficient, the most common method of cerumen removal by general practitioners is syringing with warm water (used by 95% of GPs). A curette method is more likely to be used by otolaryngologists when the ear canal is partially occluded and the material is not adhering to the skin of the ear canal. Cotton swabs, on the other hand, might just push the earwax further into the ear canal.