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Ear problems

Ear wax build up

Ear wax is a normal, oily substance that helps to protect your ears. It usually comes out of your ears by itself, helped by the movement of your jaw.

It’s good for our ears to have a little bit of wax but it can sometimes build up and cause discomfort or other ear problems.

You might need ear wax removing if you have any of the following:

  • hearing loss
  • earache
  • tinnitus
  • itchiness
  • vertigo (a spinning sensation) thought to be caused by a wax blockage.

You may also need ear wax removing if it’s affecting how your hearing aids work, or if it’s blocking your ear canal and stopping a specialist from:

  • examining your ear
  • carrying out hearing tests
  • taking impressions of your ear canal for hearing aid ear moulds.

Ear wax build up can affect anyone, although those who have narrow ear canals or wear hearing aids may be more likely to have frequent ear wax build up.

How ear wax build up can affect your hearing aids

If you wear hearing aids, ear wax can affect how they work. Significant amounts of ear wax can cause hearing aids to ‘whistle’. This will usually stop when the ear wax is removed.

Ear wax can also stop your hearing aids from working properly if it enters the tube or receiver. If this happens, you may have to clean your hearing aids more frequently.

How ear wax build up can cause tinnitus

Some people experience tinnitus if they have a build up of ear wax. This often happens if the wax causes a temporary hearing loss. Once the ear wax is removed, these symptoms will usually go away.

If you are concerned about tinnitus, it’s best to contact your GP.

Read more about tinnitus

What to do if you need ear wax removal

If you think you have a build-up of ear wax, you can contact your GP to see if they are able to help you.

However, not all GP practices remove ear wax, and some may have paused this service due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Availability of wax removal appointments

We’ve heard from lots of people who usually go to their GP for this service but have been told it’s no longer available on the NHS.

One reason for this could be that the coronavirus pandemic led to a number of face-to-face appointments and services being paused. Although services are now resuming, we’ve been told that some people are now facing long waiting lists.

However, in some areas ear wax removal services were cut prior to the pandemic, or don’t seem to be returning.

We’re seeking clarity from the Department of Health and Social Care on the availability of ear wax removal. Find out how you can take action if NHS ear wax removal services aren’t available in your area.

Ear wax removal with private providers

There are some private and high street providers offering wax removal at a cost. If you do decide to have wax removed this way, ensure the professional you see is suitably qualified and uses a safe method of removal such as microsuction (using a very small suction device to gently remove ear wax).

Using olive oil to soften ear wax

You may be able to use olive oil to soften your ear wax, which can help it fall out of your ear or make it easier for a professional to remove. Follow the advice of your healthcare professional or pharmacist.

While olive oil can help relieve some of the symptoms of ear wax build up, some people will still need to have ear wax removed by a professional.

Don’t try to remove ear wax from your ears

You should never try to remove ear wax from your own ears.  Only let a trained professional remove it for you.

Don’t push cotton buds, fingers or anything else into your ears. This could push wax deep into your ear, or damage your ear drum.

We know that there are some products advertised online which claim to remove wax. There is no evidence that they are safe and they could cause damage to the ear if used.

Read more about ear wax build up on the NHS website.