Ear wax is normal and is produced to form a protective coating over the skin in the ear canal. Ears are normally self-cleaning – the movement of your jaw whilst eating and talking helps to move the wax along the canal where it will usually fall out naturally without you noticing.
Why is my ear blocked with wax?
The amount of ear wax produced varies from person to person; some people produce excessive amounts which can lead to a blockage in the ear canal.
- You are more likely to develop a blockage of wax in the canal if you:
- use cotton ear buds to clean the ear as this pushes the wax deeper into the canal
- wear a hearing aid, ear plugs or use in-ear speakers for i-pods or similar
- have abnormally narrow ear canals
- have a particularly hairy ear canal
- are elderly – because the ear wax you produce is drier and harder
- have a dry skin problem such as eczema or psoriasis.
Advice to help you manage and prevent ear wax blockage
Ear wax only becomes a problem if it causes deafness, discomfort or if your Health professional requires a clear view or your ear drum.
Olive Oil Drops
The following needs to be done 2-3 times daily for 14 days.
- Lie on your side with the affected ear uppermost
- Pull the outer ear gently backwards and upwards to straighten the ear canal
- Put 2-3 drops of olive oil into the affected ear(s) and gently massage just in front of the ear
- Stay laying on your side to allow the wax to soak in for around 15 mins
- Afterwards, wipe away any excess oil but do not plug your ear with cotton wool as this simply absorbs it.
Your hearing problem may initially worsen after first starting to use the olive oil drops; therefore we advise you to concentrate on treating one ear at a time if both ears are blocked with wax. In most cases, after 14 days, the wax will have softened sufficiently to encourage the wax to come out without further intervention.
Should I use cotton buds in my ears?
Never use cotton buds in your ears! This pushes the wax further into the ear making it worse. It can also cause ear infections and damage the ear drum.
- What is a bulb syringe and where can I get one?
A bulb syringe is a small bulb shaped rubber object that will fill with water and allow the user to squirt the water gently into the ear to remove earwax. You can buy it from most pharmacies or online. It costs around £3 to £4.
Alternatively, there are now over-the-counter kits available from pharmacies. These contain a wax softener which you use for 3-4 days and a small bulb syringe to enable you to remove the wax from your ear canals yourself. One such kit is called Otex Express Combi Pack (costs approx £7.95).
- Is it safe and what are the risks of using a bulb syringe?
The use of the bulb syringe is commonly used in the USA or Europe. Two studies have shown the bulb syringe to be a safe treatment. The risks of using the bulb syringe include ear infection, failure to remove the wax and eardrum perforation. These risks are low.
- What if my ears are still blocked after using the bulb syringe?
The procedure can be repeated but if it fails you may need to consider private ear syringing.
- What are the benefits of the bulb syringe?
The main benefit of the bulb syringe is that you can use it yourself, it is cheap to buy and can be re-used.
- How do I use the bulb syringe?
The bulb syringe will most likely come with instructions but below is some advice on how to use the bulb syringe.
- Firstly, use olive oil daily for 2-3 weeks. Apply a generous amount twice daily as directed above. If this does not clear the wax then the bulb syringe can be used.
- Put some clean warm (not hot) water in a bowl. Squirt the bulb syringe in the water a few times to fill it up
- Hold your head to one side so the affected ear is facing upwards. You can do this in the shower or bath or lie on the bed with a towel underneath your head.
- If you experience any pain during or before this procedure stop immediately.
- Gently pull your ear in an upwards and outwards direction so that the water gets better access to the ear canal. Hold the nozzle inside the ear (not too deeply) and GENTLY squirt the water from the bulb syringe into the ear. You can gently squirt more bulb syringes into the ear if require. Leave the water in your ear for 1-3 minutes to soften the wax.
- Now tilt your head over so the water can fall out. Wiggle the outer part of the ear to help the water and wax come out. You can repeat the procedure if required.
If your ears are regularly becoming blocked with wax, after clearing the blockage we will usually suggest you use olive oil drops as above around once per week to keep the wax soft and encourage the natural process of wax expulsion.
What about ear syringing?
This is held back only for severe cases of wax which haven't responded to standard treatments. There is a risk of causing harm including infection, inflammation, pain and perforation of the ear drum.
If a patient needs their ears syringing, a nurse will triage the request and book in where appropriate. You must have used Olive oil for at least 2 weeks before having them syringed.