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How to remove Ear Wax safely.

Updated on December 30, 2013
Self portrait of my ear
Self portrait of my ear

What exactly is ear wax?

Ear wax is also known as Cerumen, it is produced by the sebaceous glands located within the ear. Ear wax is slightly acid with anti-bacteria properties that helps to prevent particles and dirt reaching the delicate eardrum (Tympanic membrane). Believe it or not ear wax actually not only lubricates and protects the lining of the ear canal but also cleans it – very clever!

It can be soft, wet, hard or dry and will also depend quite often on the age of the individual and their lifestyle activities. As we get older ear wax 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 ear wax.

There are several different symptoms that may be experienced when wax is blocking the ear canal. You may have one or more of these.

  • Tinnitus - ringing in the ear
  • Itchiness
  • Pain – as in earache
  • Plugged sensation
  • Vertigo - some people also experience a sensation of ‘moving’ when actually still.

Causes of ear wax

There are many causes of ear wax blockage and some individuals are more at risk than others.

  • Narrow ear canals can make your more susceptible to ear wax 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 (pre-auricular area).
  • Hard impacted wax
  • Ear infections
  • Elderly people – wax becomes harder and more difficult to shift.
  • Q tips and hearing aids – both of these (especially Q tips) push the wax further down the ear canal towards the ear drum where it becomes more impacted.

The saying goes ' if it's bigger than your elbow, then it shouldn't be in your ear".

Ear wax treatment

If your ears feel very blocked and are 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 ear wax blockage.


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.

Ear wax removal is much easier if you have softened the wax at home using the above first.

An Otoscope is used to look inside your ear. Your ear will may be syringed with a metal syringe – (although this practice is now quite dated), or ear wax irrigation - where a gentle pressurised flow of water is place in your ear until the wax is removed. It should not be painful.

Some clinics use micro-suction. A tiny microscope is used 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 Nurse to stop.

If the water 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 ear wax build up then it is wise to have your ear checked 3 – 6 monthly.

People using hearing aids should also get their ears checked 3 – 6 monthly.

When not to have your ear wax removed

The National Health Service (NHS choices 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 ear drum 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 ear wax, it is always advisable to get your Doctor to have a look with an Otoscope. You will be told if you need to commence home treatment and/or have the ear wax removed at the Doctor’s clinic.


Note: The 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.


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    • profile image

      Shirl 2 years ago

      I'm pretty sure that the saying is 'If it's SMALLER than your elbow'

    • samnashy profile image

      Sam Graham 4 years ago from Australia

      Yes, the Q tips are a bit tempting sometimes, but ivevseen too many perforated ear drums. Thank you for your comments

    • profile image

      stessily 4 years ago

      samnashy, Thank you for presenting this information clearly and succinctly. I used to grab for Q-tips but switched to a homemade baking soda solution, which feels better than those Q-tips.

      Appreciatively, Stessily