Earwax Removal

Reviewed by Charge Audiologist Ron Trounson

Table of Contents

What Is Ear Wax Removal by Microsuction?​

Ear cleaning by microsuction is a procedure performed by Ear Health practitioners to remove earwax and debris from your ear canal.

The first step in the microsuction process is to examine your ear canal using light and a microscope or surgical loupe.

Magnification lets your practitioner get a clear view of the earwax and debris.

Once identified, a thin suction tube vacuums up any residues. 

Using small surgical instruments, your practitioner may need to pluck stubborn earwax or debris.

The entire microsuction procedure is usually quick and comfortable, and you can expect to see a dramatic improvement in your hearing immediately afterwards.

Ear Health registered nurse perfomring earwax removal by microsuction

The 10 Steps of Ear Cleaning by Microsuction

The ear suction procedure, called Microsuction, aims to quickly and gently clean the ear canal of earwax and other debris.

There are generally ten steps in the procedure, and it usually takes fifteen to twenty minutes to complete.

You may be asked about your medical history relevant to the procedure during your first visit.

  1. Your healthcare professional will explain the steps involved.
  2. Please ask any questions you may have.
  3. You will recline or lie flat and remain very still.
  4. The practitioner will inspect your ear canal using a microscope or surgical loupe.
  5. The practitioner will direct vision and light using a small cone placed in your ear.
  6. A thin metal tube attached to a suction unit will be placed in your ear canal.
  7. Once turned on, the suction will make a windy noise.
  8. Earwax and debris will be carefully removed from your ear.
  9. Your nurse might use forceps, probes and other equipment if necessary.
  10. You are free to talk with your healthcare professional during the entire procedure.

What Is the Ear Wax Removal Experience Like?

People often describe the Microsuction experience as light tickling of the ear canal with windy, squeaky, popping sounds.

For most people, the ear cleaning by Microsuction experience is comfortable and painless. Often it’s a massive relief as the blocked feeling (occlusion) of your ear canal disappears.

In rare circumstances, earwax cleaning by Microsuction may be a little uncomfortable. For example, if your ear canal is sensitive or inflamed due to an infection. If you feel uncomfortable during the Microsuction procedure, please let the health practitioner know.

You may feel dizzy momentarily if cold air comes into contact with your eardrum during Microsuction. The dizzy feeling will pass in a few moments as your eardrum warms up again to average body temperature.

A light touch of your ear canal during the procedure might cause you to feel like coughing. Although uncommon, this is entirely normal and referred to as the Arnold nerve reflex.

The auricular branch of the vagus nerve (or Arnold’s nerve) is located in your ear canal, and when physically stimulated in some people, it may cause an ear-cough reflex.

How Often Do You Need Earwax Removal?

Every individual produces varying amounts and types of earwax. Therefore your health practitioner will ask you some questions and advise how often earwax removal is required.

What Is the Difference Between Ear Syringing and Microsuction?

Ear cleaning using an ear syringe is generally considered an inferior procedure to Microsuction. The critical difference is that syringing uses water pressure to blast ear wax and debris, while Microsuction uses an air vacuum to suck out ear wax and debris.

At Ear Health, using a microscope to inspect your ear before Microsuction is also a clear advantage. For example, a healthcare professional can identify a perforated eardrum or ear infection under magnification.

The ear syringing or irrigation of the ear procedure has been described as early as the 1st century AD by Aulus Cornelius Celsus in De Medicina, one of the best sources concerning medical knowledge in the Roman world.

Celsus was mainly concerned with cleaning discharge from the ear and removing foreign bodies from the external ear canal.

In 1821 French Otologist, Itard first described irrigating the ear with a syringe to remove hard wax. Soon after Itard’s publication, ear syringes were produced and described by:

  • Beck in Freiburg, Germany, in 1827
  • Fabrizi in Modena, Italy, 1839
  • Schmalz in Dresden, Germany, 1846.
Ear syringing being perfromed by a practice nurse on their patient
Ear syringing being perfromed by a practice nurse on their patient.

By contrast, ear Microsuction is a more recent 20th-century procedure and likely coincides with more widely using suction machines in medicine.

In most modern hospitals, a vacuum is available from wall outlets located throughout the building. In the context of a hospital, suction can clear a patient’s airway, facilitate breathing, or remove blood or other fluids from an area being operated on by a surgeon.

Microsuction became more widely accepted as the preferred procedure for ear wax removal in New Zealand in 1998 when The New Zealand medical journal published the article, “When not to syringe an ear”.

The article reviewed the likely dangers of ear syringing and the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) Medical Misadventure Unit’s report of claimed injuries due to syringing over 17 months. During that time, syringing claims accounted for about one-quarter of the total claims received by the ACC ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) Medical Misadventure Committee.

Syringing also carries some inherent complications, and adverse effects may be more common than with Microsuction. Perforation of the eardrum, swimmer’s ear, damage to the external canal, pain, deafness, vertigo, and tinnitus are all possible complications with the syringing procedure.

Author Bio

Jerika Pring

Jerika Pring

I received my Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2009 and have 10 years of nursing experience effectively and efficiently managing both patients and staff. I've had experience in Medical and Surgical Wards, Otolaryngology, Gynecology and Obstetrics, Neurology, Pediatrics, Aged Care, and worked as a certified laser technician.

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