What is tinnitus?
A previous blog post (link) covered this topic, but broadly speaking, tinnitus refers to the ‘perception of sound in the head, with no external stimulation’. This broad definition can include things like internal blood flow and jaw movement (somatosounds), auditory hallucinations, music hallucinations, and subjective tinnitus (tinnitus resulting exclusively from activity within the nervous system, without any corresponding vibratory activity within the cochlea).
Does earwax cause tinnitus?
Yes and no! Earwax doesn’t actually cause tinnitus as such, however if the wax fully blocks the ear canal, then this quietening of sounds entering the ear, is often enough to increase the perception of tinnitus which is already present. Think of it like this, if you block both ears with your fingers, if you have even a small amount of tinnitus, you will hear it more due to not hearing external sounds. In fact, in the early fifties, Heller and Bergman (1953) were the first to observe the perception of tinnitus by normal hearing adults in an environment of absolute silence, namely in an anechoic room. Ninety-five percent of their participants experienced tinnitus-like sounds, indicating that tinnitus could be a normal experience, and that its perception is masked by everyday ambient noise.
Will earwax removal get rid of tinnitus?
Looking at the famous research paper above gives good reason to expect tinnitus to go away following a successful ear wax removal. Unless you have had troublesome tinnitus prior to getting blocked ears, you should expect to return to your usual hearing function once the earwax is gone. Permanent tinnitus can be a sign of early deterioration of hearing function and should always be investigated by a trained audiologist.
Should I expect my tinnitus to go immediately after earwax removal?
In theory, yes, however sometimes the procedure used to remove wax can cause temporary tinnitus. Thankfully, if you choose an experienced, qualified earwax professional, the risk of acquiring tinnitus following earwax removal is very low. Often, for people who have had a blocked ear for some time and who suddenly can hear again, their brain can take a little to adjust to its ‘new normal’. Usually by the next day, a person’s hearing is back to normal again and the tinnitus has gone.