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Ear Syringing: Remove Buildup of Earwax with Ear Irrigation
Ear Syringing: Remove Buildup of Earwax with Ear Irrigation
09 Feb 2024

Ear Syringing: Remove Buildup of Earwax with Ear Irrigation

Ear syringing has been available for several decades but was replaced by ear irrigation. It is a method of removing waxing wax from the ear and was usually an option when ear wax drops weren’t effective at removing wax. It involved using an old-fashioned metal syringe to pump water into the ear canal to dislodge and remove ear wax. This method is rarely used now and is substituted with lower-pressured plastic ear syringes.

How do I know my ears are blocked and need syringing?

Blocked ears may cause the following.

  • Hearing loss, particularly for low frequencies
  • It may make your voice sound hollow like you are speaking into a bucket
  • Fullness in the ear
  • In some cases, discomfort and pain

How does Ear Syringing work?

Ear syringing, also known as ear washing, is a process that involves flushing out the ear canal with water. A practitioner will use a syringe to inject a small volume of water into the ear canal to soften the ear and dislodge the accumulated wax. As the blockage loosens, the water drains out of the ear with excess wax. This procedure is easy and quick, usually taking about 15 – 20 minutes, depending on the density and size of the blockage.

The water used must be at a specific temperature to prevent causing dizziness, and the flow rate needs to be appropriate so excess pressure isn’t used. Other complications may also occur from ear syringing.

How is ear syringing performed?

Ear syringing is no longer a common procedure done by public healthcare nurses and GPs, but many people self-administer it using ear syringing kits bought from the internet.

These ear syringing kits come with a flared-typed or bulb-typed plastic ear syringe designed to squirt streams of water at varying angles against the ear canal wall to prevent ear trauma to the eardrum. Ear syringing works by pumping water behind the ear wax to flush it out of the ear.

This procedure usually takes about 15 - 30 minutes but may vary depending on the type and amount of ear wax, the depth of the ear wax inside the ear, and treating one or both ears. The person undergoing ear syringing needs to sit still with the head slightly tilted to keep the affected ear facing upwards. This helps the water move down the ear canal as it is squirted into the ear. As the water runs out, a metal cup-shaped basin placed beneath the ear collects it, and any wax is flushed out.

What are the benefits of ear syringing?

Ear syringing can effectively remove ear wax if done correctly, and the wax isn’t blocking the ear or fully impacted. Home ear syringing kits are quite affordable. Successfully self-administered ear syringing prevents having the ear wax removed by another method, and some people find the procedure therapeutic.

What are the risks of an ear syringing procedure?

An ear syringing procedure is safe, but the recommendation is to remove only the soft ear wax. If your ear wax is hard, there is a risk of perforating the ear drum. In this case, another ear wax removal procedure is advisable, such as ear instrumentation. This procedure uses specially designed tools for manual wax removal.

Ear syringing isn’t a good option if you had previous complications after this procedure, you had ear surgery in the past, or currently have a burst eardrum or an ear infection.

Some patients feel dizzy following ear syringing, but this should settle quickly. In some cases, inflammation may occur in the ear canal after an ear syringing procedure, causing some discomfort or itching, but ear drops can easily resolve these side effects. Ear syringing rarely causes any damage to the eardrum or ear, but if you experience any ear pain, discharge, or swelling, consult your healthcare provider immediately.

Are you experiencing any of the symptoms outlined in this article?

Contact the clinic today for a same-day GP appointment.

What are the side effects and limitations of ear syringing?

Ear syringing isn’t suitable for people with a perforated grommet or eardrum, cleft palate, mastoid cavity, or foreign object in their ear or who have had a middle or outer ear infection in the last six weeks.

Ear syringing isn’t an ideal option if you have a healed or weak eardrum following a perforation in the last 12 months or have ear surgery in the last 18 months.

Preparing the ear wax before ear syringing is necessary. This involves administering ear drops such as olive oil for several days up to a week or longer to soften the ear wax. Most times, this causes expansion of the ear wax and further blocks the ear or worsens other associated symptoms. In some cases, ear drops trigger ear irritation or infection, and no treatment for ear wax removal is 100% risk-free.

Some known complications and side effects of ear syringing include:

  • Ear wax getting further impacted into the ear canal by the water pumped into the ear
  • Trauma and damage to the eardrum and ear canal, including perforation
  • Loss of hearing (permanent or temporary), tinnitus (a ringing type of noise in the ear), and worsening of tinnitus if already experienced, but rarely occurs
  • Vertigo, dizziness or faintness if the water isn’t at body temperature due to the caloric effect, but this is short-term
  • An outer ear canal infection, such as otitis external –is more likely to affect people with a history of ear infection or eczema.
  • Infection of the air-filled and porous bone surrounding the ear (mastoiditis)
  • For self-administered cases, there is no clinical examination of the ear canal and outer ear beforehand and afterward to check for complications and contraindications.

Some FAQs on Ear Syringing

What causes the excess production of wax?

Excess earwax production may be due to several reasons. This may include wearing hearing aids, which create a warm environment in the ear canal, causing wax generation. Other reasons may include:

  • Warm, humid weather leading to a sudden increase in earwax
  • Small ear canals may cause problems and are more likely to require suction
  • Dead skin cells may cause blockage, not earwax
  • Hereditary factors
  • Using earbuds in the ear canal artificially compacts ear wax, forcing it further into the ear. Earbuds can also leave residual fibers that cause infection.
  • Listing to music using in-the-ear headphones stimulates wax production

Can I syringe my ears at home?

Self-administered ear syringing at home isn’t advisable. Everyone has a different shape, orientation, and size of ear canals. If you apply too much pressure in your ears, you may cause severe damage to your eardrums and hearing. Ear syringing at home may cause fluid to become trapped behind the wax obstruction, and trapped water may cause infections. Seeking professional help is the advisable option.

Do doctors perform ear syringing?

Ear irrigation, a more controlled water method, is the common option in health settings. Syringing isn’t usually done except by a trained audiologist. However, most GP surgeries do not provide ear cleaning services, but in the past, they offered ear irrigation.

Why have doctors stopped ear syringing?

Ear syringing was available in the public healthcare service for many years but is currently unavailable. This is mainly due to time pressures, cutting costs, and the associated risks of the procedure.

Where can I go for ear syringing?

You may want to check with your GP to know if you qualify for care on the public healthcare service. If not, you may consider earwax micro-suction by a trained audiologist. Undergoing an ear wax removal procedure with an expert is best to protect your hearing.

A search on Google for an earwax micro-suction clinic near me should generate a list of licensed clinics for the procedure.

Is an alternative option for removing wax available?

More gentle options for removing excess earwax are available. This often involves dissolving the earwax with specially treated water or oil administered at home. This option takes some patients, and several products in the market claim to dissolve earwax. You may consider the following.

  • Earol

Earol is an oil-based product that gently softens wax in the ear, allowing the softened wax and oil to naturally come out of the ear, usually while sleeping. It may take about ten days for Earol to work, so consider placing an old towel on your pillow to prevent staining.

Earol may leave an oily residue in the ear, which makes the ear feel more blocked than before. Your hearing may seem worse for a while, and some people find this discomforting. However, this side effect is temporal and will subside as the wax clears. It is effective for softening even the hardest earwax blockages.

Earol may solve the problem for some people, but there may be no improvement for some, even after seven days. In this case, consult a clinic for an earwax micro-suction.

  • Audiclean

This is an isotonic water that you can spray in your ear to remove blockage for relatively soft wax. An oil-based product may be better for a harder, more stubborn obstruction.

  • Medical-grade coconut oil

This is available over the counter at most pharmacies. Medical grade coconut oil is a natural anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agent, particularly useful for people suffering from eczema. Unlike olive oil-based products, it does not leave a residue, and the body will naturally absorb it.

Is ear syringing safe?

When done by a professional who has carefully examined your ears, it can effectively remove stubborn wax that is too close to the eardrum to use micro-suction techniques. However, the preferred method for removing earwax is micro-suction. Microsuction is safe and effective. It uses a gentle suction technique to remove earwax without the risks of ear syringing.

Ear syringing may perforate the eardrum and cause ear infections or temporary hearing loss. The audiologist may perform tympanometry measurements (measurement of the eardrum movement)before and after an ear syringing procedure to reduce this risk and ensure that your ears feeling blocked isn’t for other reasons.

Sometimes, your ears may feel blocked from several causes, like ‘glue ear and ear syringing can’t help in this case. A careful visual ear examination is necessary to determine the right treatment.

Is ear syringing painful?

 Ear syringing is usually painless because it isn’t invasive. The syringe is only for inserting water into the ear canal, which shouldn’t cause any discomfort. If you feel anxious about the procedure, consult the healthcare provider beforehand, and they will talk you through the procedure’s steps and alleviate your concerns. If you begin to feel discomfort during the treatment, you can ask the healthcare professional to stop until you are ready to process.

Why is ear syringing no longer recommended?

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines state the side effects of ear syringing. The possible risks include:

  • 29% of ear wax removal fails
  • 175 changes of infection in the middle ear
  • 11% chance of trauma to the external auditory meatus (ear canal)
  • 15% chance of ear drum perforation

Why do GP surgeries no longer offer this service?

Some people state that ear syringing can be dangerous and can damage the ear canal if done incorrectly. However, the main reason it is no longer available in G surgeries is because ear syringing isn’t under essential services but is now classified as a specialist service. GPs can only offer ear syringing if the earwax build-up causes hearing loss. In this case, the GP practice can provide ear syringing services through audiology services.

Since the ear syringing procedure is no longer a core service of the public healthcare service, it is now under the specialist treatment category. This means you have to make alternative arrangements if you need ear syringing.

Visit Medical Express Clinic today or call 0207 499 1991 to book an appointment for ear syringing.

Concerned about any of the issues raised in this article? It's well worth undergoing a full body health screening to check for underlying issues, with 4 GP appointments included in all Advanced and Elite MOTS throughout 2023.