Ear wax is produced by all of us and naturally migrates out of the ear canal. It is normal to have some ear wax pass out of the ear canal. However, sometimes, it can build up and block the ears. When the wax becomes “impacted” it can cause a conductive hearing loss which is when the sound cannot reach the inner ear to vibrate the ear drum. It is very unusual for it to cause discomfort or pain, but wax can become infected which may in turn cause a painful ear.
Ear wax colour and consistency varies between individuals and people who produce drier or thicker wax are more likely to suffer with a build-up. Some patients suffer with smaller or narrower ear canals which prevents the wax migrating out of the ear so easily. Ear plugs, hearing aids and cotton buds also prevent wax migrating out of the ear and can compress the wax deeper in the ear canal (this is particularly true for cotton buds and these should never be inserted into your ear). If wax is not impacted, it can be left to migrate out of the ear canal itself. If it is impacted or causing a blockage, there are a number of options to try and treat the wax:
- Olive oil ear drops are very effective at softening wax, allowing it to pass naturally or softening it in preparation for microsuction. This is less effective if there is a large amount of impacted wax pushed deep into the canal.
- Sodium bicarbonate drops are very effective at softening wax but should be used before microsuction so any residual fluid can be removed rather than as a sole treatment with the fluid left in the canal.
- Syringing involves washing wax out of the ear with water and is very effective. However, it cannot be used for patients with perforations, those that have had previous ear surgery, patients with Grommets inserted or patients who suffer with recurrent ear infections.
- Microsuction and aural toilet (using instruments to clean the ear canal) are the best treatments for removing ear wax. Using a microscope, wax is removed with fine suction or using small instruments from the ear canal, taking care not to damage the canal or ear drum. The suction can be noisy but microsuction and aural toilet are not painful.
- Occasionally wax needs to be softened before and after treatment as impacted wax can be very difficult to remove and repeat treatments are necessary. If you suffer from recurrent build up of wax or debris in your ears, regular microsuction or aural toilet may be recommended.
If you suffer with wax impaction or recurrent build-up of debris in your ear and would like to enquire about microsuction and aural toilet, please contact the Practice Management Team for further information.