Patients often ask, “How can I remove wax from my ears?”
My short answer? Don’t. There are very few safe and effective products on the market in the U.S for ear wax removal. The only type I recommend patients try are wax removal kits by companies like Water Pic. These consist of a vial of sterile water and a bulb syringe. One squirts the water in the ear, fits the syringe to the ear canal, and tries to suck out the water, along with the wax. It’s not always effective, but at least it’s safe. The new battery-powered wax vacuum is totally ineffective, ear candles are completely ineffective, and products like Debrox or hydrogen peroxide soften wax, but don’t remove it. One could consider combining these softeners with the above-mentioned wax removal kit.
And then there are Q-tips. These are one of the most ineffective, and THE most dangerous option. I advise patients to never, ever use Q-tips on themselves or their family members. They can lacerate the ear canal and puncture the eardrum. We see these injuries commonly. Q-tips can cause swimmer’s ear. For diabetics and those with weak immune systems, the infections they can cause can even be life-threatening. At best, if they do remove any wax, they pack at least the same amount of wax deeper in the ear canal, unbeknownst to the user. Many people have itchy ears, and use Q-tips for scratching. Don’t do this, for the reasons above. I recommend people try olive oil or mineral oil (also known as baby oil or sweet oil) squeezed from a cotton ball or dropper out a dropper into the ear for itching. This can be repeated as often as desired. In very difficult itching cases, I sometimes prescribe brief courses of drops with steroids in them, but these are not healthy for the ear canal if used too frequently.
If you feel like there is something in your ear canal, there might be, but you will never be able to get it out with a Q-tip or other solid object. Please don’t try. Come see me and let me examine the ear canal. If there’s wax, I can remove it using a variety of safe, effective tools and techniques.
How can you remove ear wax? For most cases, the best answer is to make an appointment with your local ENT doctor, like the helpful ones here at Middle Tennessee ENT.
Jim Fordice, MD