Table of contents

What is ear wax?

Ear wax is a natural bodily secretion which, if it builds up, can cause problems with hearing, ear ache, tinnitus and dizziness. In most cases it removes itself, but in others it may have to be removed by a trained ENT health professional.

What causes ear wax build-up?

There are a number of causes for ear wax build-up:

  • Some people naturally create a lot of ear wax
  • Producing hard or dry ear wax
  • Narrow or hairy ear canals which link the opening of the ear to the ear drum
  • Age, because ear wax becomes drier as we get older
  • Bony growths in the ear canal
  • Frequent use of cotton buds, ear plugs are hearing aids

What are the symptoms of ear wax build-up?

There are a range of symptoms which might improve when the ear wax is removed. These include ear ache, hearing loss, tinnitus, itchiness, dizziness and/or ear infections.

When is ear wax removal recommended?

If you think you have a build-up of ear wax, do not try to remove it with your finger, cotton bud or anything else you could put in your ear – this can cause damage and push the wax further into your ear. As a general rule, never try to put anything into your ear which is smaller than your elbow!

Where ear wax is causing you minor symptoms, speak to your pharmacist about ear drops which soften the wax and help it to drop out naturally. Do not use drops if you have a perforated ear drum, and stop using them if they cause irritation.
Here is when to seek treatment:

  • Visit your GP if your symptoms are troubling you or if ear drops have not worked after three to five days
  • Your GP or practice nurse may recommend using the drops for longer, or they may use ear irrigation to clean out your ear canal
  • If these steps do not work your GP may refer you to an ENT specialist for further treatment

What does ear wax removal involve?

If ear drops or ear irrigation do not work, other options include:

Microsuction, which is a quick and comparatively painless treatment involving a small device which sucks out the wax from your ear. This is usually a safe option even if you have a damaged ear drum.

An aural toilet uses a thin instrument with a hoop at one end to clean your ear and remove the wax.

How long does ear wax removal take?

Depending on the severity of the ear wax build up, a matter of minutes.

How long will I be in hospital?

Ear wax removal is carried out as a day case procedure, so there is no need to stay in hospital overnight.

What are the results of ear wax removal?

With the ear wax removed, any symptoms caused by the wax disappear quickly. If you are prone to ear wax build-up your doctor may recommend using ear drops to keep the wax soft and help it remove itself, but this advice will only be given if drops are right for you.

What are the risks and complications of ear wax removal?

A pre-treatment assessment should reveal any perforation or tears to the ear drum, which would rule out some treatments. If the assessment does not show up a perforation or tear and you know you have had one, you should let the nurse or doctor know – carrying out some treatments where there is a damaged ear drum can cause problems. Some treatments may cause discomfort or symptom recurrence in people who have conditions of the inner ear such as Menières disease. Again, it is important to let the nurse or doctor know if you have such a condition before treatment begins.

Pre-operative assessment:

A pre-operative assessment is our opportunity to ensure that the procedure for which you have been referred is right for you. We’ll explain your treatment to you and makes sure that you are well enough to go ahead with it. It is also your opportunity to meet the team who will care for you and to ask any questions.

We carry out all the necessary tests and examinations in one outpatient session. While this may take several hours, everything is done in one go to save frequent visits before surgery.

Paying for yourself:

Where ear wax removal is not available on the NHS, or where the number of NHS procedures available has been reduced and has resulted in a longer waiting time, you can choose to pay for your treatment yourself via our self-pay option.

Self-pay is available if you find you are not eligible for NHS-funded care and do not have private medical insurance.

You will need an open referral letter from your GP or audiologist (we can help you with this). Because we don’t include all of the costly extras you may associate with private hospital treatment, paying for yourself could cost you considerably less than you might imagine too. There are also financing options available, to help you spread the cost.


Ear wax removal is available at the following treatment centres:

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