Got earwax? Self-irrigation with a bulb syringe may be effective and save a trip to the doctor

For patients with occluding earwax, self-irrigation with a bulb syringe significantly reduces subsequent demand for ear irrigation by health professionals, according to the results of a study reported in the Annals of Family Medicine.

“Although there are few data, it has been estimated that each year 12 million people in the United States seek medical care for problems with earwax, and 8 million ear irrigation procedures are carried out,” write the researchers.

“To remove symptomatic wax, current professional guidelines advocate the use of ear drops to soften wax, followed, if necessary, by irrigation by a trained clinician. … Bulb syringes can be used for the self-clearance of earwax and, in the short term, appear effective.”

The researchers followed 237 patients attending 7 family practice clinics in the United Kingdom who had symptomatic, occluding earwax. They randomized the patients into two groups:

  • An “intervention group” that used ear wax softening drops and a bulb syringe with instructions on its use to wash out the wax at home, and
  • A “control group” that applied the ear drops, and then came to the medical clinic for irrigation if the ear drops did not work.

In the 2-year follow-up, more control group patients returned to the clinic for earwax removal: 85 of 117 (73%) versus 70 of 117 (60%) of the intervention group.

The numbers of consultations amounted to 1.15 (control) vs 0.64 (intervention), a difference of 0.50 consultations, thus saving a consultation on average for every 2 people.

For patients who have not already tried bulb syringes, self-irrigation using a bulb syringe significantly reduces subsequentdemand for ear irrigation by health professionals. Advocating the initial use of bulb syringes could reduce demand for ear irrigation in family practice clinics.

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