As doctors we always tell our patients not to put Q-tips in your ears. Many of you listen, but some of you still think that q-tips are the best way to keep your ears from building up too much wax. When used correctly and frequently, q-tips can work well, but they do require rather frequent use (once a week), awareness of how to do it properly (don’t go too far in to avoid breaking the eardrum); and how to get the wax out (versus just pushing it further in). Unfortunately, year after year, it never fails, as we see lots of patients come into our offices with things even more bizarre then just Q-tips lodged In their ears, (we’ll spare you the details), but the common issue is blockage from too much earwax.
So is there a simpler way to prevent earwax buildup in your ears? Have you ever tried taking a bulb syringe and a little bit of water to squirt in your ear and effectively loosen/remove the wax? Does this even work? Is it safe? How does it compare to q-tips?
A new study in the Annals of Family Medicine looked at patients who came in to their doctor’s clinic, and they were either given a bulb syringe with instructions on its use at home, or they had their ears irrigated in the doctor’s office the way it normally occurs. The findings might surprise you- it did us- 73% of those who had the nurse treat them with in office irrigation came in for repeat treatments, as opposed to only 60% of those who got the bulb syringe. So, at the very least, the bulb syringe was just as effective as the ear irrigations, and at much less costs to the patient and to our health care system.
Our only reservation is to be careful, because occasionally you can become dizzy when your ears are irrigated, and it does take some training and practice to get good at it. Rarely, irrigation can harm the eardrum if done too vigorously. It takes a partner to do it frequently, and you can’t see in the ear easily to know you got it all out- so many patients might still prefer to come into their doctor and have their ears irrigated under supervision. We also do not know how this regimen compares to q-tips, but it is another option, pretty inexpensive, and usually safe, for many- that is a good thing.