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Self management of ear wax

A person cleaning their ear with a cotton bud and a red line through it.

What to do about wax build up

If ear wax is not causing you any problems, it is best left alone. The ear is self cleaning and often the wax will come out without you needing to do anything.

Sometimes ear wax can build up enough to cause hearing loss and other problems. Wax build up is more likely to happen to people who naturally have narrow ear canals, people who work in dusty environments, those who need to use ear plugs to protect their hearing at work, and hearing aid users. 

Self help

The first step in treating problematic ear wax is to soften the wax to see if it comes out by itself.

DO NOT try to remove with a cotton bud or any other object as this can damage your ear and push the wax further down the ear onto the ear drum, making the problem worse.

Using cotton buds, matchsticks or other items to try to clean out the ear canals is one of the most common causes of impacted wax. Using cotton buds or other objects can also damage the ear canal, and can even cause perforation of the ear drum.

DO use olive oil ear drops once a day for seven days in order to soften wax.

To use ear drops:

  1. Allow the olive oil to come to room temperature naturally. Do not heat the oil.
  2. Lie on your side with the affected ear facing upwards. Pull the ear gently backwards and upwards to open and straighten the ear canal. This will allow the drops to enter deeper into the ear.
  3. Carefully let three droplets of olive oil fall into your ear. You may find it helpful to have somebody help you.
  4. Gently massage the area directly in front of the ear.
  5. Lie still for at least five minutes to ensure the ear drops have penetrated properly.
  6. If you need to treat both ears, turn over onto your other side and repeat the process.

DO NOT insert cotton wool or tissue paper into your ears as this can absorb the oil, leaving the wax dry and hard.

Follow this link to a guide for patients on self-management of ear wax, in PDF format and produced by the Welsh Government. 

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We welcome correspondence and telephone calls in Welsh or English. Welsh language correspondence will be replied to in Welsh, and this will not lead to a delay. This page is available in Welsh by clicking ‘Cymraeg’ at the top right of this page.