How to Remove Earwax Safely
What Is Earwax?
Earwax, also known as cerumen, is produced by the sebaceous glands located within the ear. Earwax is slightly acidic with anti-bacterial properties that help to prevent particles and dirt from reaching the delicate eardrum (tympanic membrane). Believe it or not, earwax not only lubricates and protects the lining of the ear canal, but also cleans it.
It can be soft, wet, hard, or dry, which often depends on the age of the individual and their lifestyle activities. As we get older, earwax tends to get a bit drier and harder which is why more mature adults tend to have their ears syringed or irrigated than younger individuals.
Symptoms of Earwax Accumulation
There are several different symptoms that may be experienced when wax is blocking the ear canal. You may experience one or more of the following:
- Tinnitus or ringing in the ear
- Pain, or earache
- Plugged sensation
- Vertigo—some people also experience a sensation of "moving" when still
Causes of Earwax Accumulation
There are many causes of earwax blockage and some individuals are more at risk than others. Some reasons for earwax accumulation include:
- Narrow ear canals, making you more susceptible to earwax blockage
- Hairy ear canals, usually more common in the more mature male
- Skin disorders of the scalp or area around the front of the ear (preauricular area)
- Hard impacted wax
- Ear infections
- Being elderly—wax becomes harder and more difficult to shift
- Q tips and hearing aids, both of these push the wax further down the ear canal towards the eardrum where it becomes more impacted
The saying goes, "if it's bigger than your elbow, then it shouldn't be in your ear."
If your ears feel blocked and it is affecting your hearing, then you need to get treatment. You can try these simple methods at home first if you do not have pain or fever associated with your earwax blockage.
What You Will Need:
- Wax drops—over the counter
- Olive Oil
Make sure the solution is at room temperature, lie on your side, and place 2-3 ear drops in the affected ear. Continue lying on your side with the affected ear facing upwards. After 3-5 minutes, you can let the oil drain out by standing up. Do this 3-4 times a day for about 3 days. If there is no improvement in your hearing or the sensation of having ‘blocked’ ears has not changed, then you will probably need to see your doctor.
Earwax removal is much easier if you have softened the wax at home using the above method first. An otoscope is often used to look inside your ear as part of a basic exam. Your ear will may be suctioned with a syringe, or irrigated, where a gentle pressurized flow of water is placed in your ear until the wax is removed. It should not be painful.
Some clinics use micro-suction. Micro-suction involves using a tiny microscope to view the wax and gently suction it out. This is one of the safest and most effective wax removal techniques. A qualified GP or ENT specialist may undertake this procedure for you. It is painless for the patient and takes little time.
Your doctor may also use a small curette or similar device to gently remove any wax that sticks to the ear canal. If you experience any pain, dizziness, or general discomfort, ask your doctor or your nurse to stop the procedure. If the water used is too cold, it may cause dizziness, so you are quite within your rights to ask for it to be warmed.
If you are prone to earwax buildup, then it is wise to have your ear checked every 3 to 6 months. People using hearing aids should also get their ears checked every 3-6 months.
When Not to Have Earwax Removed
The National Health Service (2012) suggests you do not have your ears syringed if any of the following apply to you:
- Previous pain and/or vertigo when having wax removed
- Any discharge from the ear
- Perforated eardrum within the last 12 months
- Cleft palate—even if it has been repaired=
- Any inner or outer ear infection within the last 6 months=
- A foreign body present in the ear canal
If you are in any doubt as to whether you have earwax, it is always advisable to get your doctor to have a look with an otoscope. You will be told if you would benefit from home treatment and/or benefit from having the earwax removed at the doctor’s clinic.
This guide is not meant to be fully comprehensive and is meant for information only. The author makes no guarantee, either expressed or implied, regarding the efficacy or use for any reason of the information contained within this article.