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Earwax treatment plan

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

There are some scenarios where earwax should be treated proactively, such as when it is blocking the ear canal. Other symptoms that should lead to earwax treatment are if there is vertigo, hearing loss, earache, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), or a cough that is thought to be caused by earwax.

Doctor’s advice

Who should avoid starting earwax treatment?

Earwax should not be treated if there is any possibility of a perforated eardrum. Normally this would be suspected if there were symptoms of sudden pain, hearing loss, and fluid draining from the ear.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

Self-treatment can start with ear drops such as olive oil used up to four times a day. Another option, if this has not helped after one week, is to stop the oil drops and change to sodium bicarbonate drops for a further 3 to 5 days.

You should lie on your side with the ear facing the ceiling, insert room temperature ear drops and remain in position for five minutes. You should not put cotton balls in the ear after olive oil has been inserted, as it can soak up the oil and reduce the drops' effectiveness.

When instilling the ear drops, there are possible side effects such as mild pain, dizziness, short-term hearing loss, and irritation to the skin.

If, after 2 weeks, there is little improvement, then the next step would be to see your doctor for ear syringing or micro-suction, which can be done to get the softened wax out. Although many doctors perform ear syringing, Healthwords prefers micro-suction due to reduced risks of complications.

Micro-suction is performed by looking at the wax and sucking it out of the ear canal. In contrast, syringing is performed without visualization during the procedure, and some studies have shown an increased risk of eardrum perforation and complications (thought to be around 1 in 1000 rate when performed in primary care).

When should I see my doctor?

You should book a routine appointment with your doctor or practice nurse if you have tried 1 - 2 weeks of ear drops and think you may need another intervention to get rid of the wax.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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