Ear wax removal and ear candling

I am often asked which is the best way to remove ear wax from the ears.

Here is just that question asked to a Health Forum in The Daily Telegraph - http://bit.ly/31aL5b

My first answer to this question is twofold. Firstly, wax is produced in everyone by specialised glands of the ear canal skin and forms a protective barrier against bacteria and microbes entering the ear canal - it is NOT in any way dirty or unhealthy, and actually is quite the opposite ! My second point is to say that usually one doesn't have to remove wax, as the ear is designed to be self cleansing i.e the wax is gently moved from the depths of the ear canal to the opening by the natural process of the ear canal skin 'epithelial migration'.

However, this process can undoubtably not work properly and the wax may become stuck ('impacted') in the ear canal and this can predispose you to deafness, pain, infection and even coughing due to the wax stimulating a nerve that also supplies the voice box.

This may occur due to a variety of factors : People with very hairy ear canals are more likely to get problems, as are those with narrow tortuous ear canals and those that wear a hearing aid mould in the ear. People who have had ear surgery such as mastoidectomy will usually have to have their ears cleaned out on a regular basis due to the surgical formation of a cavity within the ear that cannot clean itself. Some peoples wax is of a more liquid consistency and therefore will not come out of the canal as I've suggested. 

There are a variety of methods to clean the ears but PLEASE don't poke inside your ears with cotton buds. These pesky things look for all the world as if they are made for ear canal cleaning but cause far more harm than good. What you will usually end up doing in pushing the wax further inside the ear and also scraping the ear canal skin and causing pain, bleeding and infection. As the saying goes ' Don't put anything smaller than your elbows inside your ears' !  

There are plenty of over the counter wax softening drops which you can buy such as Sodium Bicarbonate or Otex, which contains Hydrogen Peroxide which fizzes inside the ear to help loosen the wax. In many cases this will allow the wax to come out naturally, but sometimes like all these blind procedures may itself cause infection around the wax. In general, I am NOT a fan of Olive Oil in this situation, as I think it tends to cause a rather greasy unhealthy mess around and inside the ear. If drops don't work, ear syringing can be performed at your GP, whereby a pressure of water is gently syringed into the ear and by the jet of water getting behind the wax is able to push it out. This is, however, another blind process which in some cases is not successful and can also cause pain and infection due to the water being pushed into the ear.

The best and most patient friendly technique is to have the wax removed under direct vision with a microscope and a tiny suction device (like a mini vacuum cleaner ) by me in outpatients. This is entirely painless and allows me to remove every scrap of wax from the ear canal right down to the eardrum while looking down your ear with the microscope. It also allows me to examine your ear in great detail and therefore concurrently exclude any other problems in your ear that may be present masquerading as ear wax.

More recently, I have been asked about ear candling - please see http://bit.ly/cqtZ33 .

Like all Ear, Nose and Throat Specialists, I am worried about the theory of how this can work. Whilst I remain to be convinced about whether it works for ear wax, I am absolutely convinced that it won't help sinus problems as suggested in this article - if you wish to use these candles for helping your nose and sinuses, I don't think putting it in your ear will be likely to help !

Personally, I would also be seriously dubious about putting a lighted candle near my ear and hair with the incumbent risks of a serious burn - this would particularly be a worry if you were doing it on yourself.

Ear candling (or 'thermal auricular therapy') is not, I'm afraid, a technique I would recommend...... 

If you have a problem with ear wax impaction and would like me to solve this for you, please make an appointment to see me through the blue self referral box on the right side of this page or via my secretary on the 'Contact Us' page of this site.    


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