How does ear wax removal work?

Let’s talk about ear wax removal

It is perfectly normal to produce earwax and it has an important role to perform.  Ear wax is formed in the outer third of your ear and secreted from some tiny hairs at the opening of your ear canal and acts as an antibacterial moisturiser.  Ear wax also protects your ears from insects crawling into your ear canal.

If you have excess earwax, you should not consider yourself as having dirty ears.  The ear canal is usually self-cleaning.  The outer third of your ear is formed of cartilage and opens and closes when you talk and chew, working the old wax and skin that continually sheds from your eardrum out of the ear.

Why do my ears get blocked with ear wax?

One of the biggest contributors to an ear wax blockage is the use of cotton buds.  Using a cotton bud will push the ear wax past the hairs in the outer third of the cartilage part of the ear, deep into the bony portion of the ear canal, where this is no movement when you talk and chew.  When the earwax is this deep in the ear, it can dry out and go hard and if this is repeated regularly it will start to block the ear canal entirely and can become impacted.  If this happens, you will need intervention from a hearing specialist who will use microsuction or irrigation to gently remove the excess wax from the ear canal.

Another cause for blocked ears is someone who physically has narrow downward sloping ear canals, preventing the ear wax working out of the ear naturally when you talk and chew.  Individuals with narrow downward sloping ear canals will usually need regular microsuction or irrigation wax removal appointments.

Some individuals produce less oil from the hairs on the outer third of their ear as they age, causing the wax to quickly harden, preventing it from migrating out of the ear naturally as it used to, causing the ears to block.

Individuals who wear hearing aids can push wax deeper into the ear than is natural, preventing natural migrate of the earwax when you speak or chew.  This is because your hearing aids will block this natural mechanism from happening.  That is why it is important to have regular 6 monthly check-ups with your Audiologist who can routinely remove the build-up of ear wax for you.

What is the proper way to remove ear wax? What can you do to prevent your ears from blocking?

The best thing you can do to prevent your ears from blocking is not to put anything down them. A common saying is not to put anything smaller than your elbow down your ear.

Unfortunately,  using olive oil or Otex regularly to soften the ear wax is not the solution as the oil will mix with the skin that naturally sheds from your eardrum and ear canal and cause you to be blocked with skin instead of ear wax.  Ideally, you should only use a week before your scheduled wax removal appointment.

Once you find a wax removal specialist that you are comfortable with, you will identify together how frequently you should attend a wax removal appointment, allowing the removal of the excess ear wax before it becomes a problem.

Olive oil or Otex drops can be applied to hard ear wax to help soften the wax.  This can make it easier to remove the ear wax from the ear however, it will rarely remove excess earwax on its own.

We can usually remove ear wax without using olive oil however, it will prevent the need for a follow-up appointment for impacted ear wax.

Earol olive oil is good for softening earwax and Otex has bicarbonate of soda infused into the oil, this can help breakdown old hardened impacted wax.

Can we recommend an ear wax removal kit

Definitely not, please do not attempt this.  From our experience, unregulated home wax removal remedies and gadgets bought online have caused a lot of misery and unnecessary pain in recent years.  Ultimately, you will need to see a professional who understands the anatomy of the ear to fix any problems that home wax removal can cause and the online wax removal kit will just be a waste of money.

Your ear canal is a natural amplifier and can amplify sound as much as 20 decibels, this doesn’t sound a lot, however, every 3 decibels is a doubling of sound. What this means is, if you are partially blocked you will hear, but not as well as you could, as you will lose your canals natural resonance. This is why it is important to see your hearing care professional regularly.  If you haven’t had a wax removal before and you are not hearing as well you used to,  you may only need a wax removal to restore your hearing fully.

What is microsuction?

Microsuction is one of the safest and easiest ways of cleaning your ears when performed by a certified wax removal specialist.

The micro-suction technique uses gentle suction to clean the ear, this method is more comfortable and safer than all other forms of ear cleaning. We use a medical grade ENT microscope and a small thin tube that is attached to a specialist suction pump that is placed on the ear wax/infection/discharge in the ear canal, this gentle suction removes the blockage as a plug or, if the wax is soft enough it will go into the vacuum tube and then into a specially designed disposable container.

What is irrigation?

Irrigation uses a gentle stream of warm water to gently lift the wax out of the ear and into a specially designed bowl that sits under your earlobe. Irrigation should not be confused with unregulated ear syringing which is no longer performed in this country. Ear irrigation is preferred by some clients who regularly had the procedure performed at their local GP surgery before the clinical commissioning group revoked the funding for this essential procedure.

At Beckenham Hearing, we use the most up to date irrigation system available. This system is regulated to make the pressure safe for your ear canal and automatically warms the water to the correct temperature.

We are fully certified to perform Irrigation and are more than happy to perform this service if it is your preferred method of wax removal.

Irrigation has received bad press recently, as it is usually confused with ear syringing that is unsafe, as the pressure is unregulated. One of the reasons that irrigation may be dismissed is because the clinician is not qualified to perform the procedure.  At Beckenham Hearing, we are accredited to perform ear irrigation which is safe to use unless you have had a perforated eardrum and/or a recent ear operation.

Ear wax candles

Ear candles are not effective and we strongly recommend against this method.  It is only effective for wasting your money and potentially causing 3rd-degree burns.  We see many patients who have tried this, with no improvement and have had to book an appointment for us to remove the ear wax professionally using microsuction or irrigation after the frustrating cost of the ineffective ear candle.

Can ear wax removal cause ear infection? What is the best ear wax removal product?

The most common ear wax removal tools that are used are a high-resolution ENT microscope that allows us to safely and clearly look down the ear canal with great depth perception.

The other wax removal tool we use in conjunction with this is a micro-suction unit which is a miniature hoover for the ears. We attach a single-use Zoellner suction tube to the micro-suction unit and we place this through a special speculum that opens up the ear for a clear view. This allows us to gently and safely remove the earwax.

Another wax removal tool that we use at Beckenham Hearing is a Navigator.

This is the most up to date ear irrigation systems available.  This wax removal tool heats water up to body temperature and is pressure regulated to prevent damage to the eardrum when performing irrigation.  We will use this if you have sticky soft ear wax all over your eardrum.  We can gently rinse the ear wax off of the eardrum comfortably.  For you to hear well your eardrum needs to vibrate, so having sticky earwax all over your eardrum will impede its performance making the Earigator an invaluable wax removal tool.

We may also use something called a Jobson Horne this is used to bring the earwax away from the edge of your ear canal wall making it easier and more comfortable to remove.  This wax removal tool also has a dual purpose, as it is specially designed for an Audiologist to attach the cotton wall to the end and we use it to remove the excess water from your ear canal after ear irrigation. This helps you to instantly hear better as well as preventing an ear infection.

Ear Wax Cleaner

It’s not really effective in our experience and almost falls into the category of ear unregulated cleaning kits found on the internet.

Ear Wax Drops

Ear wax drops are rarely an effective treatment on their own.  They are very effective for softening hard impacted wax that can be difficult to when left too long without treatment.  In most cases, the earwax can be removed successfully using microsuction or irrigation without the need for ear drops.

The most common ear drops are Carol which is a clear sterilised olive oil which has an effective applicator attached to the bottle making it easy to apply.  Another popular ear drop is Otex which is also an oil infused with bicarbonate of soda which can help breakdown stubborn impacted ear wax.  However, if this is used for too long it can usually cause the ear to become a little tender.

Both drops are safe as long as you do not have an active perforated eardrum and will definitely help facilitate with the removal when performed by a hearing specialist.