WHAT ARE THEY?
Ear wax drops and sprays are liquid solutions which help to soften, disperse and sometimes dissolve ear wax. This process is called ‘cerumenolysis’. Although ear wax drops and sprays 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 and sprays 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 and sprays are generally either ‘water’ based (e.g. sodium bicarbonate ear drops) or ‘oil’ based (e.g. olive oil ear spray or 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 and sprays are:
Water-based ear wax drops and sprays:
- Sodium bicarbonate drops (e.g. Care Sodium Bicarbonate Drops)
- Urea Hydrogen peroxide drops (e.g. Cl-ear Express Ear Drops)
Oil-based ear drops and sprays:
- Olive oil drops and sprays (e.g. Cl-ear Olive Oil Spray or Drops)
- Almond oil drops and sprays (Verbascum Homeopathic Ear Drops)
- Peanut oil drops and sprays (Cerumol® Ear Drops)
Currently there is no substantive evidence to support the use of one type of ear wax drops and spray over another.
HOW EAR DROPS & SPRAYS WORK
All ear wax drops and sprays 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 and sprays tend to have some breaking-up action on ear wax.
HOW TO USE EAR WAX DROPS & SPRAYS
Ear wax drops and sprays must be used as recommended by the manufacturer’s instructions. The amount, frequency and duration that ear wax drops and sprays need to be applied into the ear can vary depending on the type of ear wax drops and sprays 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 and sprays be applied with the head slightly tilted with the affected ear facing upwards and that the ear wax drops and sprays be allowed to penetrate inside the ear for a few minutes.
Ear wax drops and sprays should usually be used at room temperature and discarded 28 days after first opening.
The major benefit of ear wax drops and sprays 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 and sprays 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 and sprays do not instantly remove ear wax. This can be problematic for some, especially hearing aid users. Ear wax drops and sprays 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 and sprays alone will be effective at removing ear wax. Occasionally, ear wax drops and sprays 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, although there are now ear wax sprays available which are much easier to use. A few people can experience dizziness and vertigo when applying ear wax drops and sprays if they are not at room temperature. This is due to the ‘caloric effect’.
Ear wax drops and sprays are also often not recommended to be used if the person has an:
- allergy to the ear drops and sprays 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 and sprays in the past.