Ear Wax

Causes of Earwax

Ear wax is normal and forms a protective coating of the skin in the ear canal. The quantity of wax varies greatly from person to person.

If a plug of wax is formed in the ear canal this may cause a feeling of fullness and dulled hearing.  Ear wax need only be removed if it is causing severe symptoms.

You might have earwax build-up because:

  • you just have more wax in your ears – some people do naturally
  • you have hairy or narrow canals (the tubes that link the eardrum and outer ear)
  • of your age – wax gets harder and more difficult to fall out
  • of hearing aids, earplugs and other things you put in your ear – these can push the wax further in

How to tell if your ear is blocked with wax

You can have:

  • earache
  • difficulty hearing
  • itchiness
  • dizziness
  • an ear infection
  • sounds such as high-pitched tones coming from inside the ear (tinnitus)

Once the earwax is removed, these symptoms usually improve. If they do not, see the nurse at your GP practice.

Recommended ENT Treatment

If earwax builds up and causes symptoms, ENT surgeons recommend the following:

  • Use olive oil drops two to four times daily for two weeks
  • If symptoms persist, use sodium bicarbonate ear drops, four drops twice daily, for a further two weeks
  • Lie on your side with the problem ear facing upwards. Try to pull the outer ear back and towards the top of your head. Stay in this position for a few minutes after instilling drops.

This should clear any blockage.

If it doesn’t, make an appointment to see a GP – in some circumstances your GP will be able to refer you to the hospital. There are also private providers who may be able to remove it.

How to use olive oil drops

  1. Lie down on your side with the ear requiring drops facing upwards
  2. Pull the outer ear backwards and upwards (just backwards in children)
  3. Drop 2 or 3 drops of oil, at room temperature, into the ear canal and then massage the skin just in front of the entrance to the ear canal to enable the oil to run down the ear canal more easily
  4. Stay lying down for 5-10 minutes and then get up and wipe away any excess oil with a tissue
  5. DO NOT put cotton wool in the ear following the drops as this absorbs the oil and prevents the wax coming out
  6. Repeat the procedure with the opposite ear if required.

You can buy a dropper or pre-measured capsules of olive oil from the chemist if you find this easier.

If you suffer from excessive wax, you can use olive oil drops on a regular basis (once a week) to prevent the build-up of wax and to help the ear clean itself.

Further NB Information on Self treatment

  • The fullness and dulled hearing sometimes get worse in the first week of using drops
  • Olive oil can be obtained from the supermarket or pharmacy
  • Sodium bicarbonate ear drops are available from the pharmacy
  • Do not put cotton buds, paperclips, pens or anything else in your ear canals as they all push wax inwards and pack it into a hard mass. The small hairs in the outer part of the ear canal naturally push wax outwards. Wax can be cleaned away when it appears at the entrance to the canal

If you have recurrent problems with earwax it is useful to put a few drops of olive oil in your ears at bedtime twice weekly (after they have been cleared fully as above).

What not to do

  • Do not clean your ears with cotton buds, hairgrips, matches etc. These may damage the delicate lining of your ear canal, introduce infection or pierce your ear drum. In addition, they can push the wax further into your ear canal where it becomes impacted and cannot work its way out
  • Do not scratch your ears as this may cause and help spread infection
  • Do not use ear candles – they are not effective at removing earwax and may result in serious injury

A Pharmacist can help

Speak to a pharmacist about earwax build-up. They can give advice and suggest treatments.

They might recommend chemical drops to dissolve the earwax. The earwax should fall out on its own or dissolve after about a week.

Do not use drops if you have a hole in your eardrum (a perforated eardrum).


  • We no longer offer ear syringing at Wycliffe Surgery as it is not funded by the NHS
  • There are private services in Plymouth which charge a small fee
  • Ear irrigation flushes the wax out with water
  • The procedure is usually painless 
  • The wax must be sufficiently soft to perform this procedure otherwise your ear canal can be damaged
  • Ensure you use regular softening drops for a good amount of time leading up to the procedure. If the wax is impacted or very hard, you may be asked to rebook.

Private Ear Syringing Service


  • Address: The Ear Cabin, Transit Way, Plymouth, PL5 3TW
  • £15 for first appointment including ear examination, ear care advice, haering and balance advice
  • £20 per ear that needs clearing
  • Telephone: 07853 920549 or book online via www.HealthyEars.co