ear wax

Earwax (cerumen) forms a protective coating of the skin in the ear canal. Flakes or crusts of earwax break off and fall out of the ear from time to time. The quantity of earwax made varies greatly from person to person. Some people form plugs of earwax in their ear canal.

A plug of earwax is not a serious problem. You only need to remove earwax if it is causing symptoms such as dulled hearing. Earwax may also need to be removed for fitting of a hearing aid, or if a doctor or nurse needs to examine your middle ear.

Do not try to clean the ear canal with cotton wool buds, etc. This can make things worse as you will push some earwax deeper inside. It may also cause an ear infection.

Ear drops

Ear drops alone will often clear a plug of earwax. 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 2-3 minutes to allow the drops to soak into the earwax. The earwax is softened, and it often breaks up if you put drops in 2-3 times a day for 3-7 days.

Ear irrigation

This may be needed if ear drops do not work. Irrigating the ear with water will usually clear plugs of earwax. But, it often only works if the plug of earwax has been softened. Therefore, use ear drops (such as olive oil ear drops) to soften wax 2-3 times a day for 3-5 days prior to irrigation. Lukewarm water is squirted into the ear canal. This is usually done by a machine that squirts water at the right pressure. This dislodges the softened plug which then falls out with the water.

Some people feel dizzy after ear irrigation, but this quickly settles.

Ear irrigation may not be advised if you:

  • Have had complications following this procedure in the past.
  • Have had ear surgery in the past.
  • Have a cleft palate (even if it has been repaired).
  • Have an ear infection or have had an ear infection in the previous six weeks.
  • Have recurring infections of the ear canal (recurring otitis externa).
  • Have, or have had, a perforated ear drum.

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