Should I Use Earwax Softener Before My Appointment?

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Man applying earwax softener drops into his ear

We are often asked by our patients, “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 for this is 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, Microscution creates a fine air vacuum to suck out your earwax gently.

You can imagine if your earwax is runny and soft, it is 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 Ear Nurse and possibly more uncomfortable for you if you have narrow ear canals.

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

Your nurse may advise you to soften if your impacted earwax is extremely hard or compacted.  Spectacular earwax impaction is very rare. 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 Ear Nurse 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 I have at home?” you ask. Yes, 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 helpful 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 we can’t remove all the earwax.

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

We have other means of softening earwax 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 earwax softening product. In this case, there would need to be a follow-up appointment.

How Long Does It Take To Soften Earwax?

Your Ear Nurse will also give you instructions on how best to administer 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 Ear health practitioner advises you to soften with an over-the-counter product, please pay close attention to how long and how often you need to apply the drops. 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 get in touch with your local Ear Health clinic; we are more than happy to help.

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