We want to make sure everyone is offered clear advice on managing excess ear wax safely themselves and has access to professional removal within the NHS if self-management doesn’t work.
Take action to defend NHS removal services
We do not recommend you insert any object into your ear to remove wax. Find out safe ways of managing ear wax at home.
We’ve heard from lots of you who usually go to your GP for ear wax removal but have been told this is no longer available on the NHS.
Many people are now being advised to manage their own ear wax build-up or to seek ear wax removal from private providers. However, advice on self-management is inconsistent and sometimes dangerous, and the cost of private removal can make it unaffordable.
This contradicts the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance, which states that ear wax removal should be offered:
“For adults in primary care or community ear care services if the ear wax is contributing to hearing loss or other symptoms, or needs to be removed in order to examine the ear or take an impression of the ear canal.”
There are several reasons why this service might have been stopped in GP practices. Evidence shows that the ‘syringing’ method of ear wax removal, which was once commonly used across the NHS, is unsafe and should no longer be used. However, there are other safe removal methods that can, and should, be used in GP practices, including electronic irrigation and microsuction.
GPs are not incentivised to offer these services through their contracts, and Integrated Care Boards (ICBs – the organisations that arrange NHS services locally in England) are not routinely providing funding for the service to be delivered in other settings across the NHS.
The disruption to face-to-face services due to the COVID-19 pandemic has also caused long waiting lists in some areas and services deemed not-essential were paused in some parts of the country. But we are seeing little evidence that the provision of wax removal services is returning to normal.
What we want to change
We’re calling for:
- Ear wax removal services to be brought back into primary care or community settings.
- The Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and local health bodies to explore new models for delivering ear wax removal services to make sure people can access timely and appropriate treatment.
- The NHS to publish clear information on how people can safely manage ear wax build-up themselves at home.
How you can get involved
If you’ve been unable to access ear wax removal on the NHS, we need you to contact your political representatives (MP, MSPs, MSs or MLAs) asking them to take action.
Use our simple form to send an email to your representatives, asking them to:
- Contact Government and ask that the public facing advice and guidance on wax removal services is improved, which has to include advice on how to receive professional support within the NHS for people who cannot self-treat.
- Ask your local health board or trust what steps they have taken to ensure that everyone within the area who needs professional wax removal services can access them.
If you previously used our email template to contact your representative, we still need you to contact them again. In this new email, we’re using the results of our recent survey to reinforce the need for clear, safe guidance, and for professional treatment on the NHS where needed. We still need your help to make this a priority for your representative.
Help us fight
We know that because people are unable to access the service on the NHS, they are attempting to manage ear wax build up themselves, sometimes on the advice of a healthcare professional.
However, recommendations around self-management don’t seem to be consistent and are not widely shared.
In the summer of 2022, we ran a survey to find out more about what advice you are getting on self-management, what action you are taking, and what has happened afterwards.
1,491 of you responded and we found that:
- 73% of respondents with ear wax build-up experienced hearing loss, and 37% experienced tinnitus. Half of respondents experienced earache or discomfort, and a quarter experienced dizziness.
- More than a quarter of survey respondents could not afford to get their ear wax removed privately, which can cost between £50-£100.This was especially problematic for hearing aid wearers, who need ear wax removed more regularly.
- Cost for private treatment and long waits for ear wax removal at hospital led many respondents to attempt to remove ear wax themselves, although two thirds did not feel confident doing this.
- Many of the methods people described to remove ear wax were dangerous, including hair clips, paper clips, toothpicks, cotton buds, and Hopi ear candles.
- After trying to remove ear wax themselves, only 20% of respondents said their problems went away, whilst 55% of people noticed no change in their condition. 1 in 10 said their symptoms got worse, or they caused themselves injury which required medical attention.
In 2021 we asked you what problems you had faced and where.
We received nearly 1,400 responses, with the majority of you telling us you were told to have your ear wax removed privately, or simply that this service was not provided on the NHS in your area. Nearly 100 people were also told to remove their ear wax themselves.
Your responses also helped us to identify where the problems were worse, and we sent Freedom of Information requests to the worst performing Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs – now replaced by ICBs), to find out more about their procedures on the removal of wax.
We did this to help us understand if the issue is:
- CCGs not including wax removal as a Locally Enhanced Service
- providers (such as GPs) being unaware of this
- or providers choosing not to provide the service.
Unfortunately, the responses we received didn’t give us the answers we need. Often, CCGs told us that they didn’t hold the information.
Why this is so important
It’s so important that people who need ear wax removal are able to access this service.
Ear wax build-up can affect how your hearing aids work, or if it’s blocking your ear canal, it can stop a specialist from examining your ear, carrying out hearing tests, or taking an impression of your ear canal for hearing aid moulds.
If left untreated, the associated symptoms of ear wax build up can lead to a greater risk of:
- ear infections
- social isolation