Ear Wax Removal
Earwax is a normal build-up of dead cells, hair, foreign material such as dust, and natural wax which forms a protective coating on the skin in the ear canal. The quantity of earwax produced varies greatly from person to person.
A doctor or nurse can look into the ear canal and confirm a plug of earwax has formed. A plug of earwax is not a serious problem, more a nuisance. You only need to remove earwax if it is causing symptoms such as: hearing loss, discomfort, ringing (tinnitus), dizziness/vertigo and dulled hearing.
How To Remove Ear Wax
If you think you have ear wax, do not try to clean the ear canal with cotton wool buds. This can make things worse, as you will push some earwax deeper inside. It may also cause an ear infection. For this same reason, in general, we advise against putting foreign objects like cotton wool buds in your ear.
Your ears are designed to naturally remove wax. Some people are more prone to a hard build-up of wax that makes it more difficult.
If you are prone to repeated wax build up you can continue to use olive oil drops twice a week to prevent recurrence.
Blocked ears (wax) self-care guidelines for patients
Ear drops alone will clear a plug of earwax in most cases. Put 2 or 3 drops of ordinary olive oil down the ear 2 or 3 times a day for 2-3 weeks. Or alternatively just 2-3 drops at night for 3 weeks. This softens the wax so that it then dissolves of its own accord without harming the ear. You can continue for any length of time, but 3 weeks is usually enough.
As the wax softens in the first week, some of the wax goes deeper inside the ear canal which can make your hearing feel a little worse or your ears feel more blocked and sometimes may increase the pressure and discomfort slightly. This is usually a good sign and will last for a few days before symptoms improve and the deep wax starts to come out.
Surprisingly, you may not necessarily see wax come out. It often seems to come out unnoticed.
If olive oil does not work you can buy sodium bicarbonate drops from pharmacies.
How to use ear drops
- Warm the drops to room temperature before using them
- Pour a few drops into the affected ear
- Lie with the affected ear uppermost when putting in drops
- Stay like this for 10 minutes to allow the drops to soak into the earwax.
- If you doing it at night please consider putting some cotton wool with Vaseline on the outside of the canal to act as plug over night to keep the olive oil inside. This increases the efficacy.
When to see a doctor:
- If above the above treatment your symptoms have not settled.
- If you have bad ear lasting for more than 4 days.
- If you are unwell with the symptoms.
- If the symptoms that are very bad ie pain.
- If you have other symptoms like discharge, itching.
- If you are very concerned/worried.
What is the next stage for ears that are still blocked with wax?
By following the self-care guide above, this will treat the vast majority of ear wax. In a small minority this does not completely work. These patients should see the physician associate/nurse doctor who can examine your ears and then refer to Ear, Nose and Throat specialists for micro-suction, if this is appropriate.
GPs in Camden are not commissioned to offer microsuction/syringing.
- If you have not tried the above advice for 3 weeks prior to referral, the referral may be rejected by the hospital.
- The wait to access micro-suction are up to 6 months. Unfortunately, we are not able to fast track or bypass this wait.
If you cannot wait, there are many providers locally who can offer you micro-suction for both ears for under £100 pounds.
Providers locally include:
- Zone1Hearing: Location: Kim's Pharmacy, 80 Mill Lane, West Hampstead, London, NW6 1NL
- Ear Wax Removal: (£70 for both ears)
- North London Hearing: (£80 for both ears)
- Microsuction Clinic Locations: (£80 for both ears)
What is microsuction?
Microsuction is one of the safest methods to clean the ear. The nurse, doctor or audiologist treating you looks at your ear using a microscope. This magnifies the ear, making it easier to assess and treat. A suction device is used to clean the ear without the use of water. The gentle suction device works in a similar way to a vacuum cleaner and although it can be quite noisy, it is quick and painless. If the object being removed is hard, then removal can be slightly uncomfortable. The person performing the procedure will always advise you if they feel it is going to be uncomfortable.
How can I look after my ears?
- Do not use cotton buds, scratch or poke your ears. The ear canal naturally cleans itself and when you fiddle with the ears you are more likely to cause problems such as a build-up of wax or an ear infection.
- To clean the outside of the ear use a dry tissue or alcohol-free baby wipes around and behind the ear after showering or bathing.
- Make sure you never use cotton buds, tissues or material to soak up any moisture in your ears. Let them dry naturally.
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