Updated: May 7
The general perception is to use olive oil drops and just keep using them until the blocked ear clears itself, but half the time it makes the blockage even worse, so what's the best way to clear and open a blocked ear? Read on to find out more about how to clear a blocked ear, including what you can do at home to help clear a blocked ear.
Production of ear wax in your ear is a healthy process to a. create an acidic environment to kill the batteries and bugs, and b. to make your ear canal waterproof. The exit of the ear wax is also natural. When we speak or chew food the geometry of the ear canal stretches to the sides that in turn pushes the excess of the ear wax outward.
Different methods to clear a blocked ear at home
There are many ways to clear a blocked ear at home, including ear drops, ear sprays, irrigation (syringing), ear candles, and manual instruments.
Cotton buds - In our profession using cotton buds to clean your ears is a crime. When you push a cotton bud in your ear canal you can sense that it is going in but you have no visibility to control the depth of the invasion, nor control over the direction that you are pushing the ear wax. It is an absolutely blind attempt to clean up your ear. I've had patients with damaged eardrums with cotton buds. At best the patient pushes the ear wax deep into the ear canal and smashes it over and against the eardrum. I strongly advise against using cotton buds or any other object in your ear.
Ear Candles - You would assume that the heat created by the candle would soften the ear wax and then the negative pressure (supposedly) formed inside the candle would suck out the ear wax from your ear canal. That is in theory, but in practice, this doesn't happen. Before you try this method please read through some of the comments that other buyers have left. The science behind this method is poorly defined and vaguely tested. It has the risk of burning your outer ear, your face, or even your house. I would strongly vote against the use of ear candles for cleaning your ears.
Ear drops and sprays - There are different kinds of ear wax softeners that you can purchase from a local chemist. Some are oil-based, some are water-based, and some contain active chemical agents like sodium-bi-carbonate. Use of any of the ear drop softeners might make your ear blockage worse because the ear wax becomes more moveable and is likely to create an even more seal around and inside your ear canal. If the deposition of the ear wax is in the depth of the ear canal the softener can only soften the outer part of the blockage hence it might take a very long period of time before the whole length of the ear wax is softened and could gradually start flowing out by itself. You need to be very very patient (and lucky) if you insist on using this method to clean up your ear wax. The success rate of this method diminishes dramatically if the ear wax is positioned in length and deep inside the ear canal. That being said, we do recommend softening ear wax before an earwax removal procedure with microsuction. For an in-depth read about the different kinds of ear drops you can use, check out my article on how to soften ear wax fast.
Irrigation / Syringing - Until a couple of years ago ear syringing was a standard ear wax cleaning technique provided by local surgeries in the U.K. Due to safety concerns, the manual syringe was replaced by electric irrigator pumps as the fluid pressure can be better regulated. However, there can still be complications such as dizziness, ear infections (due to batteries in the water), hearing loss and tinnitus, as well as injuries such as bruising, bleeding, rupture of the eardrum or damage of the facial nerve (out of calibrated water pump). Although most irrigation procedures go smoothly, the chances of serious complications have led the NHS to largely withdraw ear irrigation services in the U.K. Self-treatment of ear wax at home through ear irrigation is one of the popular methods and seems to have a better chance of success compared to other self-operated methods. There is always the risk of infection after the procedure (batteries in the water), and the risk of disruption of your ear drum. It has a better chance of success for a partially blocked ear canal as the water can circulate and push the wax out from behind. The chance of success of ear syringing is lower if you have a narrow and/or hairy and/or bendy ear canal. I have had patients who tried an unsuccessful attempt of water irrigation at home and then came to my clinic for micro-suction. Water irrigation for such patients pushed the ear wax deeper and smashed it against the eardrum causing pain and panic. At that stage, the patient stopped the self-treated water irrigation and rushed to our clinic for help.
Get blocked ears cleaned professionally
At our HearingNow clinic in Dulwich (SE London), we know how to clear a blocked ear as we've done it with a high rate of patient satisfaction (see our Google reviews here). Microsuction is considered the safest method to clear a blocked ear.
During microsuction, our audiologist uses either a fixed or portable ENT microscope to view the ear canal and eardrum in 3D, and a tiny suction device to safely and gently remove ear wax. The suction tube never touches your skin, eliminating the chance of infection or any discomfort or the risk of damage to your eardrum or ear canal.