Should I Use Earwax Softener Before My Appointment?

Man applying earwax softener drops into his ear

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Our patients often ask, “Do you want me to use an earwax softener before my appointment?”

Generally, it relates to a previous experience someone has had with an ear syringing procedure.

Practice nurses or GPs may request their patients to soften their earwax with olive oil, or over-the-counter ear drops before a syringing procedure. 

The main reason is that syringing can fail to remove hard or impacted earwax. An earwax softener might be the only option, albeit a not-very-effective one.

Do Not Soften Earwax for Microsuction; Most of the Time

Microsuction is different from the syringing or irrigation procedure. Syringing pushes water into your ear canal to wash out your earwax. In contrast, microsuction creates a fine air vacuum to suck out your earwax gently.

If your earwax is runny and loose from softening, it can be more difficult to remove with an air vacuum than if it were more robust and solid.

Runny earwax may also slide closer to your eardrum, making the procedure slightly more difficult for your practitioner and possibly more uncomfortable if you have narrow ear canals.

We prefer you not to soften unless advised explicitly by your practitioner.

Your nurse may advise you to soften if your impacted earwax is extremely hard or compacted. Severe earwax impaction is uncommon. Please don’t assume you need to soften your earwax, even if you have done it before.

What to Use to Soften Your Earwax

If your practitioner has suggested that you soften, they will advise you on what product to use. These might be over-the-counter softeners for very hard and stubborn earwax. More than likely, olive oil or almond oil will do nicely.

“Can I use the olive oil at home?” you ask. Yes, if it’s at room temperature, a clean bottle and carefully applied. 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 helpful to apply olive ear gently into your ear.

Remember, only soften if your practitioner has advised you to do so. The consequences for softening when you don’t need to may include returning for a second appointment if we can’t remove all the earwax.

What if I Have Softened My Earwax, but It’s Still Difficult to Remove?

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

How Long Does It Take To Soften Earwax?

Your practitioner will also give you instructions on administering earwax 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 earwax.

If your practitioner advises you to soften with an over-the-counter product, please pay close attention to how long and often you need to apply the drops. Some of these products can irritate the ear after prolonged use.

Of course, if you have 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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