Guide to ear wax removal

Learn more about the causes of excessive ear wax and how you can safely remove it.

Audiologist performing microsuction ear wax removal

Your guide to professional ear wax removal

In this article, we explore the causes of excessive or impacted ear wax (also known as cerumen impaction) and explain how it can be safely and gently removed by a qualified hearing care specialist.

What is ear wax?

Ear wax, known medically as cerumen, is a waxy substance produced by small glands in the outer third of the ear canal of humans and other mammals. Ear wax serves as a natural lubricant and antibacterial product. Its job is to protect your ears from infections, excessive moisture, dust, and dirt by moving it down and out of the ear canal.

In most people, ear wax is helpful. It moves down the ear canal and falls out, taking unwanted debris with it. But sometimes ear wax gets stuck and blocks your ear canal, which can affect your hearing.

What can cause ear wax to build up or become impacted?

About six out of 100 people produce too much ear wax due to overactive sebaceous glands. Additionally, all of the following may cause excessive or impacted ear wax:

  • Skin or bone infections.
  • Narrow ear canals or unusual ear canal anatomy.
  • Getting older – our glands produce a drier ear wax that doesn’t discharge as readily as we get older.
  • Attempting to remove ear wax with something like a cotton bud which can actually compact and push the wax further into the ear canal.
  • Wearing hearing aids or earphones/earbuds that can prevent ear wax from working its natural way out of the ear canal.

What are the symptoms of excessive ear wax build up?

Symptoms that may indicate you have excessive wax build-up, requiring professional ear wax removal, include:

  • Earaches
  • Hearing loss
  • A feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Ringing or buzzing the ears known as tinnitus
  • Itchiness around or inside your ear
  • Spinning sensations (vertigo) and dizziness
  • Frequent ear infections
  • Cough
  • Unpleasant odour or discharge in the ear
  • Pain or infection

Luckily, these symptoms are often temporary and can be reversed with professional ear wax removal. If these symptoms remain, your hearing care specialist may offer a full diagnostic hearing assessment to determine other potential causes.

Why should I have ear wax removal?

If your ears become fully blocked with ear wax, sound can’t travel down its usual pathway to your eardrum, and you may experience hearing difficulties. Blocked ears also increase the chance of infections as moisture can build up behind the wax, producing ideal conditions for bacteria and fungi.

Therefore, if you are struggling to hear or your ears feel blocked, you may benefit from professional ear wax removal. However, ear wax should only ever be removed by a fully-trained professional.

How can I safely remove ear wax?

You may be temped to try to remove excess ear wax at home with cotton buds or other foreign objects. However, when ear wax build-up already exists, this only serves to push the wax deeper into the ear canal, creating a blockage, or damaging your ear canal and tympanic membrane.

Professional ear wax removal, performed by a qualified hearing care specialist, is the only safe way to remove excess wax from your ears. There are three main methods used in professional ear wax removal; ear syringing, ear irrigation, and microsuction.

Ear syringing and ear irrigation

During ear syringing and ear irrigation, water is squirted via a sterilised jet into the ear canal. The aim is for the water will build up enough pressure behind the wax blockage to push it out of the ear.

This is a somewhat counter-intuitive process because to get the wax out; you have to push water in, and this has many risks, including the risk of pushing the wax further into the ear canal.

With ear syringing and ear irrigation it is not possible to perform an ear examination behind the blockage before completing the procedure. Therefore, if water is squirted into an already-perforated eardrum or a middle-ear infection, there may be a risk of re-perforation and or infection.

Microsuction ear wax removal

At Your Hearing Consultants, we recommend professional ear wax removal using a microsuction system, called the Tympa System.

Microsuction enables qualified hearing care specialists to reach wax and debris that otherwise could not be safely removed, right up to the tympanic membrane.

Microsuction is a modern ear wax removal technique, and is far more comfortable, convenient, and safe to perform than traditional ear syringing.

The microsuction procedure involves a sterile, low-pressure suction device that removes wax gently and effectively. The process is akin to using a tiny vacuum cleaner to suck the impacted wax out of your ear.

Using this system, your hearing care professional will be able take before and after photos of your ear canal. This way, you can be confident that your ears are clear following treatment.

How much does ear wax removal cost?

The cost of ear wax removal varies between clinic, however, in the UK you can generally expect to pay between £60 to £100 to have excess wax removed from both of your ears.

At Your Hearing consultants, our microsuction ear wax removal is from just £65 (depending on location) for both ears, and includes a FREE hearing health check. Plus, if we can’t remove all of the wax during your first appointment, we will see you again at no additional cost.

Is microsuction ear wax removal safe?

When performed by a suitably qualified hearing care specialist, ear microsuction is one of the safest methods of ear wax removal.

During microsuction, extra fine suction tips reduce excessive noise close to the ear drum, so this procedure poses very little risk of hearing loss. If you need to cough or sneeze, let your hearing care professional know so that they can remove the suction tip from your ear for your safety. The procedure will resume once you’re able to sit still again.

Like any medical procedure, rare side effects are possible. For instance, fewer than 1 in 200 people feel dizzy for a few seconds whilst microsuction is being performed. If this happens to you, ask your hearing care specialist to remove the suction tip from your ear for a few seconds until you get your bearings. Even rarer side effects include worsening tinnitus, hearing loss, and minor bruising or grazing.

Does microsuction ear wax removal hurt?

Although it can be quite noisy, for most people, microsuction is quick and painless, when performed by an experienced hearing care specialist.

To soften hard ear wax, your clinician may advise you to apply two or three drops of olive oil per day, starting at least three days prior to your appointment. This isn’t critical, but it makes the procedure faster and more comfortable, especially for people with a history of hard or impacted wax. It also increases the chances of all of the wax being removed in one visit.

Softening ear wax with olive oil also reduces the risk of hardened wax pulling on the soft tissue of the ear canal, which can cause bleeding or soreness during microsuction. In addition to using olive oil drops in advance, olive oil spray can be used during the procedure, if necessary, to improve comfort.

If an infection is causing your excessive ear wax, you may find some discomfort during microsuction. However, removing infected debris from the external ear canal is a highly recommended treatment for ear infections. To reduce discomfort, take your preferred pain reliever about an hour before your appointment.

How long does it take to remove ear wax?

It usually takes 15 to 30 minutes to perform microsuction ear wax removal on both ears. To speed up the procedure, sit as still as possible, so your clinician can keep the work area in focus.

Many professional clinics will also offer a hearing health screen or consultation as part of their ear wax removal service, therefore, you can expect your full appointment to take approximately 45 minutes to complete.

How often should I have ear wax removed?

The recommendation your clinician provides on how often you should have ear wax removed may vary widely between individuals. Some people produce a greater excess of ear wax and benefit from having ear wax removal performed every six months. Other people can go for years without having their ear wax removed.

Regular ear examinations are the best way to tell whether your ear canal is getting impacted and needs to be cleared.

Can I have ear wax removal with a perforated eardrum?

Yes, even with an existing perforation, microsuction is a safe way to remove ear wax without the risk of pushing it further in the ear.

Can I fly after having microsuction ear wax removal?

Yes, air travel is not a problem for people who have microsuction ear wax removal performed. Still, you should avoid flying if you have other medical conditions that could pose a health risk.

Have any questions?

If you are concerned about your hearing, or think you may have a build-up of ear wax, requiring professional ear wax removal, please contact Your Hearing Consultants to speak with one of our hearing care specialists.

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