EAR WAX DROPS
WHAT ARE THEY?
Ear wax drops are liquid solutions which help to soften, disperse and sometimes dissolve ear wax. This process is called ‘cerumenolysis’. Although ear wax drops can be an effective standalone treatment for ear wax, they are more often used prior to undergoing some other form of treatment for ear wax such as ear syringing or ear irrigation.
Ear wax drops are normally applied into the ear canal by the person themselves. Sometimes if difficult to do this can be done by someone else. They can be purchased from a pharmacist or supermarket without the need for a prescription, although usually under guidance from a GP or nurse. Ear wax drops are generally either ‘water’ based (e.g. sodium bicarbonate ear drops) or ‘oil’ based (e.g. olive oil ear drops). ‘Home’ olive oil should not be used as an alternative since it has not been sterilised and treated for impurities to make it safe for use in the ear.
Some examples of water-based and oil-based ear wax drops are:
Water-based ear wax drops:
- Sodium bicarbonate drops (e.g. Care Sodium Bicarbonate Drops)
- Urea Hydrogen peroxide drops (e.g. Otex® Ear Drops and Earex Advance Ear Drops)
Oil-based ear drops:
- Olive oil drops (e.g. Otex® Olive Oil Ear Drops and Earol® Olive Oil Spray)
- Almond oil drops (Verbascum Homeopathic Ear Drops)
- Peanut oil drops (Cerumol® Ear Drops)
Currently there is no substantive evidence to support the use of one type of ear wax drops over another.
HOW EAR DROPS WORK
All ear wax drops are designed to be absorbed by ear wax helping ‘thinning’ and softening it in the process. They also all lubricate the layer of skin lining the ear canal to help it move sideways and outwards towards the entrance of the ear canal as it sheds, expelling with it any ear wax in the process. In addition, water-based ear wax drops tend to have some dissolving action on ear wax.
HOW TO USE EAR WAX DROPS
Ear wax drops must be used as recommended by the manufacturer’s instructions. The amount, frequency and duration that ear wax drops need to be applied into the ear can vary depending on the type of ear wax drops being used. Typically, this can range between:
- 2-5 drops at a time;
- once or twice a day;
- for up to 3 to 7 days.
Most manufacturer’s instructions recommend that ear wax drops be applied with the head slightly tilted with the affected ear facing upwards and that the ear wax drops be allowed to penetrate inside the ear for a few minutes.
Ear wax drops should usually be used at room temperature and discarded 28 days after first opening.
The major benefit of ear wax drops are that they are a form of ‘self-care’ treatment and can be purchased from your local pharmacy and supermarket without the need for a prescription. They are also a relatively inexpensive treatment and can be used regularly to prevent ear wax from building-up and becoming impacted. If ear wax drops are effective as a standalone treatment they also avoid the need for having the ear wax removed through other treatment methods.
LIMITATIONS AND SIDE EFFECTS
Ear wax drops do not instantly remove ear wax. This can be problematic for some, especially hearing aid users. Ear wax drops can also cause ear wax to expand and further increase the ear blockage and exacerbate any other associated symptoms. Additionally, there is no guarantee that ear wax drops alone will be effective at removing ear wax. Occasionally, ear wax drops can trigger ear infections and irritation. This is more likely in people who have eczema or history of developing ear infections. Some people may also find applying ear wax drops into the ear canal difficult and untidy to do. A few people can experience dizziness and vertigo when applying ear wax drops if they are not at room temperature. This is due to the ‘caloric effect’.
Ear wax drops are also often not recommended to be used if the person has an:
- allergy to the ear drops or any of its ingredients
- opening through the eardrum (e.g. perforated eardrum or fitted ventilation tube called a ‘grommet’)
- ear infection
- unwanted complication to using ear wax drops in the past.
Image: Sodium bicarbonate drops – Care Sodium Bicarbonate Drops
Image: Urea Hydrogen peroxide drops – Earex Ear Drops
Image: Olive oil drops – Earol® Olive Oil Spray
Image: Almond oil drops – Verbascum Homeopathic Ear Drops
Image: Peanut oil drops – Cerumol® Ear Drops