What is the best remedy for a blocked ear?

Blocked ears can cause quite a lot of discomfort. The good news is that there are simple and effective methods to relieve unwanted symptoms. Not all blocked ear treatments are safe for you to perform on yourself at home however and some ‘home remedies’ can risk further damage to your ears, or make your symptoms worse.

The team at Earworx consists of experienced Registered Nurses who are skilled in blocked ear management and removal of built up earwax. The Registered Nurses at Earworx will remove the blockage safely and effectively and will educate you with their wealth of knowledge.

doctor examining ear

What causes a blocked ear?

Ear wax (cerumen) is a naturally occuring substance that is produced by the ear to clean and protect itself. It is secreted by glands in the skin that line the outer half of the ear canals.
Ear wax plays an important role to protect our ears from infection and also lubricates the ear canals. Ear wax ordinarily is removed by its own ‘self cleaning mechanism’, where the movement of the jaw acts to loosen wax whilst a conveyor belt motion of the skin layer simultaneously carries the wax out of the ear.

Certain lifestyle factors that can contribute to a blocked ear include:

  • Use of cotton buds, ear plugs or headphones
  • Wearing hearing aids
  • Working in dusty environments

Common symptoms of a blocked ear include hearing loss, pain, itching, a blocked or full feeling in the ear, discharge, or even tinnitus.

At Earworx, our team of Registered Nurses are empathetic and understand the level of discomfort that a blocked ear brings and will provide you with their knowledge and expertise in wax removal services. Earworx are dedicated to helping clear blocked ears in a safe and effective manner and provide education around ensuring this does not happen to you again.

Here’s our professional opinion on the best ear wax removal techniques.

Home Remedies

To relieve the symptoms of discomfort from ear wax build up, it may be tempting to use a cotton bud or something similar to relieve symptoms. It is important to avoid using these types of products in your ear canal. They can push the impacted wax further into the ear, which can damage a delicate ear canal and also worsen your uncomfortable symptoms.

As an extension of this, ear candles are not a medically endorsed method to clear blocked ears(1). Ear candles, purported to create negative pressure when lit within the ear to draw wax out, can often cause harm and may damage the ear canal. Adverse side effects from ear candling include burns, eardrum perforation, hearing loss, infection and hair fires(1).

Marketed heavily within the ear wax removal commercial industry of late, ‘spiral tipped’ implements used to ‘twist’ into ear wax in order to grip and pull it out are also not medically endorsed. Earwax differs between people in terms of its texture, so one method simply doesn’t fit all. If wax is too soft or hard, the spiral implement will only push wax further down the ear canal, worsening symptoms. Additionally, Oliver Adunka MD, an otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon specialising in neurotology at Wexner Medical Centre of Ohio State University explains that ear canals ‘aren’t a straight cylinder’ and that you may just ‘wind up poking yourself’(2).

Another home remedy that should be avoided with a blocked ear is flushing your ears with warm water. In some instances this may be effective to break down or remove built up ear wax but it should never be attempted on infected ears or those with perforated eardrums. Where this method results in an incomplete removal, the wax will absorb water and swell, potentially exacerbating symptoms and leading to infection. If you are unsure if your ear drum has sustained damage, or if you have a history of ear surgery, we highly recommend seeking a medical opinion before attempting any home remedy.

What is safe to attempt at home?

All home remedies carry some level of risk, given the lack of professional supervision. The approach that we recommend at Earworx is using ear wax softening drops.

Earwax softening drops can be used to soften and breakdown the built up wax within your ear. They are available at most chemists and can temporarily relieve symptoms and may provide a reprieve from pain. Softening drops are a great preliminary step to prepare your ears prior to seeking professional advice or treatment. Please be aware that due to its liquid nature, these drops can only be used if the ear drum is not perforated. If you suspect that you have a hole in your ear drum, do not use drops and seek a medical opinion.

Micro Suction

The professional treatment used at Earworx is a removal technique called microsuction. Microsuction is effective at clearing ears, is safe, pain free and is administered by specially trained Registered Nurses who closely monitor your ear canal throughout the entire process.

A consultation with Earworx will include a dedicated session with one of our skilled nurses who will conduct a careful examination of your ear. If a blockage is detected, your nurse will use the microsuction to remove the blockage. The microsuction works much like a miniature vacuum cleaner to very gently remove the blocked wax out of your ear, painlessly and efficiently. There is no water used during the procedure, making it completely safe to perform on damaged or infected ears.

The appointment usually takes less than half an hour. Microsuction minimises the risk associated with self-treatment to provide immediate relief from symptoms of an ear wax blockage. Your friendly Earworx nurse can even provide post-care tips on how to best care for your ear health moving forward.

If you would like your blocked ear cared for by one of our dedicated Earworx Nurses, book an appointment at your local Earworx clinic today. We have dedicated locations across Australia, so find your nearest Earworx now.

1) Schwartz et al 2017, Clinical Practice Guideline (Update); Earwax (Cerumen Impaction), Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Vol 156 (IS) S1-S29