Couldn't find what you looking for?

TRY OUR SEARCH!

Removing ear wax, also known as cerumen, is a surprisingly large part of what ear, nose, and throat doctors do. One study found that 29 per cent of visits to doctors specializing in otolaryngology involved removal of excess, impacted ear wax.

Over-the-Counter Ear Wax Removal Method May Not Work for Everyone, However

Richard thought he was going deaf.

Vibrant and healthy at the age of 76, Richard had no known health problems. But his wife started nagging him that he didn't respond when she called from another room. He started having trouble hearing people on the telephone. He couldn't understand movies and television programs.

Richard assumed it was just part of getting older, and for a while, he actually enjoyed not having to respond to some people in his life (other than his beautiful and adoring wife, of course). He finally made an appointment with an otolaryngologist—who cured him in less than 5 minutes. It turned out Richard was unable to hear because his ears were plugged with hardened ear wax.

Removing ear wax, also known as cerumen, is a surprisingly large part of what ear, nose, and throat doctors do. One study found that 29 per cent of visits to doctors specializing in otolaryngology involved removal of excess, impacted ear wax.

Doctors most commonly remove ear wax through a procedure called microsuctioning. Using a microscope to be able to see the ear canal (and to make sure the ear drum has not been ruptured), the doctor gently suctions out most of the accumulated wax, perhaps pulling out plugs of wax with alligator clamps (so named because of the indentations in the clamps), letting the patient remove the last bits of wax by applying olive oil ear drops once a week at home.

But you don't necessarily need to see a doctor to get the wax out of your ears.


Safe Methods of At-Home Ear Wax Removal

One popular method of at-home ear wax removal in the US and UK involves "syringing." First a few drops of some kind of oil, such as olive oil, are dropped into the ear to loosen the wax. The a bulb looking something like a turkey baster is filled with a warm (never hot!) water, sprayed into the ear to flush the loose wax out.

A study sponsored by the British National Health Service found that ear wax patients who were given a bulb syringe to take home were about 25 per cent less likely to book follow-up appointments for ear wax removal at the doctor's office. It's simply easier to take care of this in a few minutes at home than it is to book an appointment, spend time in the waiting room, and then check out of the clinic, for a procedure that often takes five minutes or less. And in the USA, if the procedure is not covered by insurance, the cost of ear wax removal by a doctor can run $500 or more.

Is at-home ear wax removal always safe?

Generally, if you experience ear pain, you should not put anything in your ears. See a doctor right away. If you have dizziness or ringing and buzzing in the ears (tinnitus), don't attempt self-care.

And it's also important to avoid cotton swabs (Q-tips), dental irrigation devices, or ear candling. Cotton swabs can force wax even farther into the ear canal. Dental irrigation devices generate too much pressure for use in the ear canal. They can injure the ear drum. And getting hot wax into the ear canal or on the ear drum can cause permanent loss of hearing. Slow and gentle removal of impacted ear wax is a must for at-home care.

  • Roland PS, Smith TL, Schwartz SR, Rosenfeld RM, Ballachanda B, Earll JM, et al. Clinical practice guideline: cerumen impaction. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. Sep 2008,139(3 Suppl 2):S1-S21
  • Schwartz RH, Rodriguez WJ, McAveney W, Grundfast KM. Cerumen removal. How necessary is it to diagnose acute otitis media?. Am J Dis Child. Nov 1983,137(11):1064-5
  • Photo courtesy of safoocat on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/safoocat/2880002081