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Drops in your ears – how much?

Updated: Nov 15, 2022

Even within the audiology industry, opinions differ widely on how much oil should be applied to the ears prior to ear wax removal, or whether it should be applied at all, and so it’s safe to say that there’s no single right answer on this.

But, in my own experience, most ear wax needs softened a little before being removed. The difficulty in providing generic guidance on this is that everyone’s ear wax is different, and will require softening to different degrees to help it come out more easily.

The traditional method of ear wax removal – used by practice nurses in GP surgeries across the country for many years – was syringing, subsequently replaced with irrigation. Both of these techniques use warm water to flush the excess wax out of the ear canal.

This procedure is vastly easier and quicker when the wax is very soft, and so the commonly-given advice prior to irrigation was to put almond or olive oil in the ears every night for two weeks prior to your appointment.

The disadvantage of this approach is that softening the wax to this degree often makes the problem worse for the client in the short term – making the wax more fluid and more likely to block the ear canal completely, which brings discomfort and a degree of hearing loss. Of course, the wax may be blocking the ear to this degree already, in which case adding oil will not make the perceived problem any worse. But putting oil in every night for two weeks is a pain!

An ear wax removal method more recently adopted is microsuction, which uses a medical vacuum to draw wax gently out of the ear canal, without the need for any water. This method does not require the wax to be softened to the same degree to be successful, although it’s helpful if it’s softened a little. Some people will have ear wax which is naturally soft, others is very dry and hard, and herein lies the difficulty in prescribing one-size-fits-all guidelines to putting oil in the ears.

On balance, I have found that – in most cases – putting oil in the ears for two nights prior to the appointment is perfect. This will usually soften the wax enough for microsuction, and if it was already soft, probably make it suitable for irrigation.

However, which method is used will depend not only on the softness of the wax, but also on its position in the ear canal, and the medical history of the client, and thus will be decided in consultation with the client prior to the procedure.

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