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Monday, 30 July, 2001, 23:34 GMT 00:34 UK
Watery solution to wax problem
ear examination
Ear wax is a problem for thousands of patients
Fifteen minutes with an earful of water may be as good at tackling troublesome earwax as the traditional "olive oil" remedy.

Traditional advice offered by doctors to soften compacted earwax - a few nights pouring olive oil into the ear - may be a wasted effort, say researchers.

Although all normal ears produce some wax, in most cases it is naturally cleared over time.

But in some cases it can build up, blocking the narrow ear canal and causing temporary deafness or even pain.

The solution in many cases is to have the wax flushed out with water fired through a syringe, but the wax may be so hardened that syringing will not move it.

At this point most doctors tell the patient to go away and pour olive oil into the affected ear for a few nights, to help soften the wax.

However, a team of doctors from the Netherlands suspected that the oil might not be doing a good job.

Instead, they simply injected water into the ear, plugged it in with cotton wool and instructed the patient to sit in the waiting room for 15 minutes.

Oil no better

Those undergoing the oil treatment fared no better on their return than the group given water.

Doctors in some cases found it easier to help patients who had used water instead of oil.

The researchers said that "using water as a dispersant for persistent earwax is quick and more convenient for the patient".

Mr Kalpash Patel, an ear, nose and throat surgeon at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester, said that the study echoed his own opinions formed by years of encountering stubbornly impacted ear wax.

"I have always found that warm water is much better at breaking up ear wax than olive oil - despite the fact that many doctors still recommend the latter.

"It's something I have been doing for years."

Earwax is a common problem among patients - as many as 40 in every 1,000 patients suffer this way.

Ear, nose and throat experts warn against using objects to prod around and dislodge the wax.

Even using soft cotton-buds could leave the patient with a perforated eardrum.

The research was published in the British Journal of General Practice.

See also:

08 Dec 99 | Health
Ear infections linked to genetics
05 Mar 99 | Health
Ungluing bunged-up ears
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