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Should I use ear wax softener before my appointment?

Should I use ear wax softener before my appointment?

We are often asked by our patients, “Do you want me to use an ear wax softener before my appointment?”.

Generally, it relates to a previous experience someone has had with an ear syringing procedure. Practice Nurses and Doctors may request their patients to soften their ear wax with olive oil or over-the-counter ear drops before a syringing appointment. The main reason for this is syringing can fail to remove hard or impacted ear wax. By softening the wax, it becomes runnier and may flow out more easily with the water being pushed into your ear.


Do not soften ear wax for Microsuction (unless advised by your Ear Nurse)

Microsuction is different from the syringing or irrigation procedure. Syringing pushes water into your ear canal to wash out your ear wax. Whereas Microscution creates a fine air vacuum to gently suck out your ear wax.

You can imagine if your wax is runny and soft, it is more difficult to remove with a fine vacuum, than if it were more robust and solid. Runny wax may also slide closer to your eardrum, making the procedure slightly more difficult for your Ear Nurse, and possibly more uncomfortable for you if you have narrow ear canals.

We prefer you not to soften unless specifically advised by your Ear Nurse. Your Nurse may advise you to soften if your ear wax is spectacularly hard or impacted. This only happens in rare cases and might not be the case every time you feel your ears are blocked. Please don’t assume you need to soften your ear wax even if you have been asked to do it before.


What to use to soften your ear wax if advised to do so

If your Ear Nurse has suggested that you soften, he or she will advise you on what product to use. This might be over-the-counter softeners for very hard and stubborn ear wax (which is rare). More than likely olive oil or almond oil will be recommended.

“Can I use the olive oil I have at home?”, you ask. You sure can, as long as it’s at room temperature, clean and you apply it very carefully. Do not insert anything deep into your ear canal, or you risk injury. An eyedropper, also known as a Pasteur pipette, or an oral syringe used to give infants liquid paracetamol may all be useful to apply olive ear gently into your ear.   

Remember, only soften if your Ear Nurse has advised you to do so. The consequences for softening when you don’t need to may include coming back for a second appointment if all the runny wax can’t be removed. 


What if I have been advised to soften and I do, but it is still difficult to remove?

We have other means of softening during your appointment if this situation occurs. The worst-case scenario is we may advise to soften for a more extended period or try an over-the-counter ear wax softening product. In this case, there would need to be a follow-up appointment.


How long shall I soften for?

Your Ear Nurse will also give you instructions on how best to administer ear wax softening drops. Usually, it only needs to be done the night before your appointment, except for rare occasions where you have particularly stubborn or impacted wax. If you have been advised to soften with an over-the-counter product, please pay close attention to your Ear Nurses instructions on how long and how often you need to apply the drops, as some of these products can irritate the ear after prolonged use.

Of course, if you have any more questions regarding this or another issue please contact your local Ear Health clinic, we are more than happy to help.

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