Updated: May 9
Which drops or sprays dissolve earwax the fastest? Is it even a good idea to use something that dissolves ear wax fast? Would the ear wax flow naturally if I dissolve it?
If you feel that your ears are blocked and you suspect that the cause of this is ear wax, no doubt your answers to all the above questions would be "Yes, of course".
The cells inside the ear canal are unique in the human body - they migrate. "You could put an ink dot on the eardrum and watch it move over a few weeks and it would be 'carried out' by the movement of the cells." according to Prof Shakeel Saeed at London's Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear hospital (ref. link). If this didn't happen the mini cul-de-sac of the ear canal would soon fill up with dead cells created by the natural process of skin shedding.
This movement also propels the wax - produced by the modified sweat glands which line the ear canal - towards the outside. It's thought that normal movements of the jaw - through eating and talking - assist with this movement.
Earwax blockage can be frustrating, uncomfortable and even painful. If both of your ears are blocked with ear wax, you'll struggle to hear. If one ear is blocked with ear wax, it's hard to work out where sounds are coming from, which is obviously a safety hazard if you are driving or crossing the road, and also a real struggle and very frustrating when someone is talking to you on the side you have your blocked ear. It can be very disorientating, and some people may feel unsteady or dizzy, and generally out of balance. It's understandable to want to be rid of your ear wax blockage as fast as possible.
The skin at the entrance of the ear canal is just one millimetre thick, and the further you go down the ear canal, the thinner it gets, going down to a tenth of a millimetre at the eardrum. There are softer options in the market, as well as stronger products to soften your ear wax. More aggressive ear drops may seem like the solution, they can cause irritation in some people, as well as other potential side effects. So which drops or sprays should you use to soften your ear wax?
Often, the accumulation of ear wax happens in the external half of the ear canal. Despite the natural downward slope of the ear canal towards your concha bowl, the ear wax can migrate in both directions, especially when it is made soften. Another medical precaution to be aware of when softening your ear wax.
What solutions can dissolves ear wax?
Some of the stronger earwax dissolving drops can affect the protective layer of the ear canal and put you at risk of an opportunistic skin infection, while some aggressive formulae can cause an extreme sensitivity reaction that is very painful and looks like an agonizing sunburn, complete with peeling skin. Some of the following drops and sprays might seem like familiar household names, read on to find out if they are effective or even suitable for softening your ear wax.
Antibiotic drops & sprays eg. Sofradex®, Otomize® & Ear Calm Sofradex® drops and Otomize® spray are the two most common medicines prescribed to treat otitis externa, the medical name for an infection of the outer ear, which includes everything up to and including the eardrum. They contain a combination of skin steroids to reduce swelling and itching, an antibacterial to stop the growth of bacteria, and an antibiotic to kill bacteria. These, as well as other generic ear medications, can only be obtained from a pharmacy on prescription, and are specifically designed to treat ear infections, so while they are great for treating infected ears, they don't do much to dissolve ear wax.
Hydroxen Peroxide ear drops, including Otex® , Earex® Advance, Exterol, Cl-Ear Express etc. These profess to dissolve and break up ear wax, but although they dissolve ear wax faster than saline, the peroxide they contain can cause painful, severe sensitivity reactions that look like a sunburn when viewed using an ENT microscope. Also, like all ear drops, the method of application requires you to put your head on a side, so the ear canal then acts as a funnel, directing softened ear wax onto the eardrum. The peroxide can also bleach the ear wax, making it difficult for even the most experienced professional to distinguish between white ear wax and the ear canal walls, even under an ENT microscope.
Non-sterile cooking oil: refined olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, extra virgin coconut oil, vegetable oil Traditionally, it used to be recommended to warm up some olive oil and drop it into the ear using a spoon or pipette. Extra virgin olive oil is cold-pressed and hasn't been pasteurised or processed using solvents. This preserves all the delicate plant ingredients that are so good for our health but also leaves in small amounts of plant matter. Once opened, the bottle can become a home for yeast and bacteria floating in the air. This is not a problem when we cook with it or put it on our salad, as our stomach acid kills mould spores and bacteria. However, non-sterile olive oil from your kitchen should be kept for your cooking and not put in your ears, as any professional who has seen a fermenting ear will tell you.
Olive oil ear drops eg. Cerumol® olive oil, Otex® olive oil Sterile, pharmacy-grade olive oil ear drops will safely and gently soften ear wax. Being sterile and highly refined, olive oil ear drops are very safe but they won't dissolve your ear wax fast. They also have the same problem as any ear drops: you have to put your head on a side for the drops to go into the ear, which funnels any softened ear wax deeper into your ear, potentially making your hearing worse as the ear wax slides down the ear canal as it gets narrower and narrower.
So, those are the worst at dissolving ear wax fast, which are the best products for dissolving ear wax fast? Read on to find out...
More effective formulas for softening your ear wax
Finally, we arrived at more commonly used formulas for softening your ear wax:
Sodium bicarbonate ear drops Sodium bicarbonate (also known as bicarbonate of soda) ear drops work by creating a chemical reaction with the ear wax: the alkaline bicarbonate drops react with acidic ear wax to produce salt plus water. Sodium bicarbonate often affects within a day or two. The first impression that the patient feels is that the blockage of his or her hearing is worsened and the reason is that the solvent makes your ear wax crack and expand. Sodium bicarbonate should only be used for two to three days prior to an earwax removal procedure, as long term use can alkalise the ear canal surface and put you at risk of opportunistic skin infection in your ear. For this reason, we don't generally recommend sodium bicarbonate ear drops unless the ear wax is very compacted and even after 2 weeks of using Earol it is still hard and not moving.
Cerumol® ear drops The original Cerumol® ear drops are a mixture of Arachis (peanut) oil and other ingredients. It has a very medicated smell, which you may or may not like, but it is very good at dissolving ear wax fast.