Friday, May 04, 2007

Ear Wax and Cotton Buds

My son used to be quite restless and active in kindergarten. One day teacher began to complain that he doesn't seem to want to listen to instructions in class. They suspect that he was just being naughty and rebellious. I knew my son was active, but he is usually a very obedient boy, so I wondered if there was anything wrong with his ears. When I examined his ear, lo and behold, it was chock full of ear wax! After I syringed out the ear wax, the teachers stop complaining that he was not listening to instructions in class.

Impacted ear wax is one of the commonest cause of temporary deafness both in adults and children. Our ear produces wax to protect the ear canal and to give it a waterproof coating. But sometimes for some reason, there is a build up of ear wax which causes symptoms of deafness, itching, earache and sometimes even infections.

The usage of cotton buds to clean the ear is a common practice globally. It is one of the common causes of impacted ear wax. The tip of the cotton bud acts like a ram rod and pushes the wax deeper into the ear canal while it cleans the sides of the ear canal. Everyone knows how satisfying it is to have your ear canals cleaned, which explains why people continue to do it.

I once had a patient with 80% deafness in one ear. On examination, there was a huge plug of wax in the ear and it took me quite a long time to extract all of it. What I managed to extract will give you goose bumps. It was a piece of waxy, mouldy cotton bud tip which had been lying in the ear for who knows how long!

So please be advised not to put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear!

What you can do:
  • Use ear drops to soften the wax
  • Avoid using cotton buds
  • When using a hair dryer, avoid blowing the warm air into the ear as it may cause the wax to harden
  • Do not try to use a pair of tweezers or any instruments to dig out the wax as you may accidentally perforate the ear drum
  • Do not try to syringe out the ear wax yourself, as it there might be a middle ear infection so you might accidentally cause a perforation of the ear drum.
  • Visit your doctor if you suspect that there is a lot of wax built up in the ear
The ear has a self cleaning mechanism by which the wax that is produced is removed naturally. So you don't really need to do anything to remove the wax yourself. However, sometimes, it does build up due to various reasons. When that happens, you are advised to visit your doctor.

A Word on Ear Candling

This is quite popular nowadays and I guess it can be quite soothing to undergo the procedure. There has been a few reported cases of injuries caused by ear candling that you should be aware of. To read more about Ear Candling, please click here.


Anonymous said...

Why is there a security verification on this blog?

I use the cotton bulb daily after showering to get rid of the water that enters me ear. Don't like the squishy-washy feeling.

Anonymous said...

Have always been wondering about this - what is the rough cost of a syringing of ears? You don't have to give an exact cost but perhaps a rough range?


Dr Leslie said...


Holy Drummer said...

Hey doc,

This is something which I do on a daily basis. Dunno why but just like to use cotton buds, especially after bathing when the ears are wet.

I suspect that I do have a build up because I think I experience hearing problems from time to time.

Is it true that a drop of olive oil can do the trick?

Anonymous said...

My ear wax is of the wet type. I have to use a cotton bud to absord the fluid daily, without which my ears will itch terribly. Is there an alterntive soluation? Thanks.

Dr Leslie said...

Olive oil is good for softening ear wax. You can also get ear drops to dry the ears like Aqua Ear if your ears are always wet. At the end of the day, once you stop digging your ears, it should become normal again.

Anonymous said...

Hi doc,

since you touch on ENT topic, could you share more abt nose-bleeding please?

My child aged 6 always has nose bleed (2 -3 times a month) and the GP said it was okay, no medication or test required. Do you agree? Anything I can do on my part?


Dr Leslie said...

It really depends. Sometimes a nose bleed can mean other things. It is important to identify the site of the bleed and do a simple blood test to see if there haematological problems. I have not seen the child so your GP is in a better position to assess the situation, but based on your information, I would do the necessary investigations after a thorough physical examination.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the price range!

Anonymous said...

Hi Doc,

Is this ear syringing available at the usual GP clinics in neighbourhood?

Dr Leslie said...

Most GPs will be able to do ear syringing

Esther said...

Aiyah, I read this post of yours but totally forgot about it! My left ear was blocked for about 2 months but got so bad the last 2 weeks that I finally got it syringed out on Saturday. I used ear drops (Waxsol) the day before so it came out really easily at the GP - 3 HUGE pieces of ear wax :S Cost $35.

Everything was so clear after that that I kept telling everyone not to talk so loudly :)

Anonymous said...

If the person is hearing impaired and she wears a pair of hearing,she often feel the itch after wearing for a long time in day and there a solution where she continues to wear hearing aids?

Anonymous said...

Hello Doc Leslie Tay,

for irrigation method is the same as ear syringing? How's the prices ranges like for both? Can the solution be done on the same day - if the build up has harden too much ?

Thank you!

Dr Leslie said...

Yes it is.

Depending on how hard the wax is, you might be given a solution to soften the wax first before returning for the syringing. Some can be done the same day.

The price ranges from $30 to $40.

Anonymous said...

Hey Doc, how much are you charging for ear syringing?

Anonymous said...

Dr Tay, I would like to ask this sickness named VERTIGO. How to treat this illness? Oh once dizzy and may end up spinning condition.

Thanks in advance!

WaxVac said...

Cotton swabs seem globally used as an ear cleaning product, which it is actually not intended as. Thanks for sharing.