We encourage self-care for patients; there is evidence that oiling, and also self-irrigation, can work well for a significant number of patients (approx. 50% reduction in the need for appointments). Ear syringing will be provided when it is recommended by a local audiology department.
If you experience any of symptoms below, or your symptoms remain following self-care, you should seek advice from your GP or Nurse Practitioner:
Please do not attempt to self – treat if any of the following apply to you:
- Pain in the ear
- A history of ear drum perforation in the affected ear
- A recent history of an ear infection in the affected ear
- Symptoms of infection in the ear – usually pain or a smelly discharge
- If you have an offensive discharge or bleeding from the ear (this may mean you have an ear infection)
- If you only have one hearing ear which is the affected ear
- Previous ear surgery on the affected ear
- Sudden deafness or buzzing
- Foreign bodies in the ear
Ear Syringing/Ear Care Guide
What is ear wax?
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 – as these can all interfere with the natural process of wax expulsion
- 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 2-3 weeks:
- 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 the oil.
Your hearing problem may initially worsen after first starting to use the olive oil drops; this is why we advise you to concentrate on treating one ear at a time if both ears are blocked with wax.
In most cases, after 2-3 weeks, 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.
Ear syringing is only usually considered if the above recommendations have proved to be unsuccessful. Ear wax needs to be softened as above for 2-3 weeks before attempting to syringe. Although the risks are low, there is a small chance (thought to be around 1 in 1000) of complications occurring with ear syringing- such as a perforated ear drum, middle ear infection, external canal infection or causing ringing in the ear (tinnitus).
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.
Bulb syringes – 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
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. We do advise you use this type of preparation to soften wax before having your ears syringed as longer term use can cause irritation and soreness to your ears. You may also see syringe kits specifically designed for ears (that direct the water to the sides of the ear rather than towards the drum).
An ear bulb syringe should be used when one or both ears are blocked with wax. This is called wax impaction. The ears are usually self-cleaning as the skin cells of the ear drum and ear canal are constantly migrating outwards and most people do not need to interfere with their ears at all. Some people make more wax, or their ears do not clean the wax as effectively as others. In these cases wax can build up inside the ear sometimes causing a blockage sensation and
A study on the use of the bulb syringe showed that half of patients who use it are successfully treated.
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 try ear syringing. If this fails you may be referred for microsuction.
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.