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What are the Different Wax Removal Techniques?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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There are several different methods of ear wax removal. Some of these can be safely done at home, and others may require the help of a knowledgeable physician. None of these methods involve cotton swabs to clean the ears. The risk of potential damage to the eardrum and other structures of the ear is far too high, and this method doesn’t usually get rid of much wax, but simply pushes it even further into the ear.

In the US a couple of methods are common. Sometimes ear wax can be suctioned out of the ear by doctors. This may help remove wax, particularly if the wax is softened first with things like oil. This type of ear wax removal should be done in a doctor's office. There have been some companies that have produced home use ear vacuums, but most people don’t find they are very effective.

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Another ear wax removal technique that doctors may use employs a small tool or spoon to scoop out the wax. There are many people who also try this method at home using a small device called a curette. Like the cotton swab, great risk exists that putting something in the ear canal will damage the ear. Though this method is employed by a number of people, especially in Asia, it’s not recommended as a safe method to be used a home. In a doctor’s office, with a trained doctor, removal with a pick or spoon can be done safely.

Perhaps the most common way people and doctors practice ear wax removal in the US is through irrigation. Typically an oil substance is placed in the ears for several minutes to break up the wax. Then water, most often at about body temperature, is poured or syringed into the ear. This helps wash the wax out. A final treatment with alcohol may help the water evaporate more easily. It can take several applications of warm water for total wax removal.

There are many ear wax removal kits that are used in a similar manner to those used in a doctor’s office. However, people shouldn’t diagnose themselves with ear wax problems. If symptoms like pressure in the ears or muffled hearing exist, people should first see a doctor to rule out other issues. Once a doctor has examined the ears, he or she may simply do the ear wax removal at the office, but if wax remains a problem and builds up again, people might then rely on a home kit.

It is possible to remove ear wax alone, but it’s a lot easier to have someone help with the process. Since it can also be messy, people recommend that those doing it alone, try the shower so they don’t drip waxy water all over the place. The water going into the ear may also make people feel a little dizzy, and being prepared for this can keep folks from getting worried.

Sometimes using oil alone for about a week is enough to soften ear wax or cause it to leak out. This doesn’t always work, but some people report high success with this. Lots of oils can be used, and even things like baby oil or olive oil will work.

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