Wax is naturally secreted by the glands in the ear canal. It lubricates and protects the ear against dust, dirt, bacteria, reducing the risk of infection. Wax varies depending on diet, age and environment. It can be sticky and brown, or whitish and flaky. If wax is not causing any problems, it is best left alone as the ear is self-cleaning.
If wax is noticed in the outer ear, it can be wiped with a dry tissue. If it builds up, if it is excessive or very dry or if the person has narrow or hairy ear canals, which are completely blocked up, removal may be recommended. Wax may also build up if it has been pushed down the canal by cotton buds, hearing aids, hair clips or other implements. If wax expands, especially after a hot shower, it may give a sensation of ear ‘blockage’ or make tinnitus worse. If wax build up is causing deafness, problems with hearing aids, or is uncomfortable, it may need to be removed.
How can wax be removed?
Ear candling warms and removes wax if excessive. This can be found at chemists or herbal shops, otherwise it can be performed by a therapist.
Medical ear drops may be effective but they may cause too much drying or irritation.
Olive oil or natural salt water drops is recommended instead of drops with very active substances.
If you often get a build-up of ear wax, using a couple of drops of olive oil once a week and some cotton wool to soak it up, may help prevent the build-up.
How does the doctor remove wax?
One of the most frequent ways to remove wax in general practice is by ear syringing or suction. However, suction (or even syringing) is not advisable if the patient has any dizziness problems or troublesome tinnitus.
Wax is removed by a clinician using a headlight and instruments. Do not attempt to remove the wax yourself as you will most probably push it further down the ear canal or cause damage.
If any method being used is uncomfortable, tell the clinician at once.
- Remember that wax is a natural secretion and if it does not cause problems, there is no need to remove it
- Never use cotton buds, or other items to remove the wax
- You can use wax softening drops or olive oil as the first option unless you have pain or discharge
- Ask whether wax removal is necessary and the type of procedure most appropriate for you depending on your history