Ear Care & Ear Wax

1.    What is earwax?

Ear wax is normal it provides protection for your ears. Your ears are self-cleaning and the movement of your jaw while eating and talking moves the wax along the canal. Sometimes excessive wax can build up inside the ear canal causing symptoms such as ear pain, hearing loss, and fullness in ears or itchiness.  This can happen for a number of reasons including hairy or narrow ear canals, using hearing aids and the use of cotton wool buds.

2.    What makes ear wax worse?
  • The amount of wax produced varies from person to person
  • Some people produce excessive amounts of wax and this can block the ear canal
  • Wearing a hearing aid, ear plugs and or head phones can interfere with wax expulsion
  • Narrow and or hairy ear canals
  • If you are elderly – the wax produced may be harder and drier
  • Dry skin in people who suffer with eczema or psoriasis
3.    What you shouldn’t do, some suggestions!
  • Do not use cotton buds to clean the ear. This forces the wax deeper into the canal and can cause damage, trauma and possible infection
  • Do not use objects such as matches, hair grips, crochet hooks, knitting needles, keys etc. this can cause trauma and possible infection
  • If your ears are itchy do not scratch or rub them with your finger nails or any other objects
4.    What helps?
  • Try and keep your ears dry. When washing your hair, showering or swimming putting some Vaseline around the inner part of your ear can help
  • Don’t put your head under the water when bathing
  • If you regularly get blocked ears, use olive oil drops weekly
5.    How can it be treated?

A build-up of ear wax can be treated with eardrops which are available from your local pharmacy.  These can help soften and loosen the earwax, which may help it work its way out naturally.

Sodium Bicarbonate solution: You should use these drops for up to 3 weeks, applying 3 times a day with 3 drops in the ear.  The sodium bicarbonate dissolves the wax.   Your hearing may temporarily worsen as the wax swells before it dissolves.  For this reason we suggest treating one ear at a time. The drops should be left in your ear for up to 3 minutes.  When it improves you could use the drops less frequently e.g. twice a week, to reduce further build-up of wax.

How to use sodium bicarbonate:

1.      Wash your hands before you begin.

2.      Warm the drops to room temperature before using them. (Let the bottle stand in the room for about half an hour.)

3.      Lie down, or tilt your head a little, so that the affected ear is facing upwards.

4.      Gently pull your earlobe to straighten the ear canal.

5.      Release 3-4 drops into your ear to fill the ear canal. Try not to touch the inside of your ear with the dropper as you do this. If the drops are for a child, only insert as many drops as are needed to fill the ear canal.

6.      Keep your ear facing upwards for 5-10 minutes to keep the solution in your ear.

7.      Repeat the process in your other ear if you have been asked to use the drops in both ears.


Olive oil: This comes as a spray or drops and is used to soften the wax.  This is a more gentle treatment and is often recommended if you have eczema in your ears.  Ideally, you should apply this treatment once daily (perhaps before sleeping) to prevent the build-up of wax on a long-term basis after the wax build up is clear.  It is not necessary to put cotton wool in your ears afterwards.  We never recommend you use cotton buds in your ears.

How to use olive oil drops or spray:

1.      Wash your hands before you begin.

2.      Lie on your side with the affected ear uppermost

3.      Pull the outer ear gently backwards and upwards to straighten the ear canal

4.      Put 2-3 drops of olive oil into the affected ear(s) and gently massage just in front of the ear

5.      Stay lying on your side for 10 minutes to allow the wax to soak up the oil

6.      Afterwards, wipe away any excess oil but do not plug your ear with cotton wool as this simply absorbs the oil

7.      Your hearing problem may initially worsen after first starting to use the olive oil drops; this is why you are advised to concentrate on treating one ear at a time if both ears are blocked with wax.

8.      In most cases, the wax will have softened sufficiently to encourage the wax to come out without further intervention.

9.      However, if you feel your hearing is still impaired, please make an appointment with the practice nurse for further advice and management.

Other ear wax drops: There are a number of other ear drops such as Otex, which help remove wax.  Your pharmacist will be able to advise you.

Microsuction: If ear drops have not been successful (or appropriate) in removing your ear wax, you may be referred by your GP to have a procedure called Microsuction to remove the earwax under direct vision

6.    Do you have an Audiology appointment ?

Your ears will need to be free from wax for your audiology appointment.  If your ears contain wax, it may lead to delays in your treatment and require additional appointments. Olive oil drops can be used to soften ear wax and help it come out of the ear.  2 -3 drops should be used twice a day for at least two weeks before your appointment.

If you know or suspect that your eardrum is perforated do not use drops unless directed by your Doctor.