Intended for healthcare professionals

Primary Care 10-minute consultation

Removal of ear wax

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 06 July 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:27
  1. T Aung, specialist registrara,
  2. G P Mulley, professor (
  1. aDepartment of Medicine for the Elderly, Hull Royal Infirmary, Hull HU3 2JZ
  2. bElderly Services, St James's University Hospital, Beckett Street, Leeds LS9 7TF
  1. Correspondence to: G Mulley

    This is part of a series of occasional articles on common problems in primary care

    An elderly man says he cannot hear properly and the problem has been worsening for a few months. He now has difficulty conversing and watches television at high volume. Normally, he is a sociable man, so he is frustrated and depressed. You find that both external ear canals are occluded with hard wax, which you offer to remove.

    What issues you should cover

    Prevalence— Explain that impacted ear wax is common; just under a third of older people experience the problem. In the United Kingdom thousands of people every week have ear wax removed. The chances of wax accumulating are increased by use of hearing aids and cotton buds.

    Evidence of complications

    • A postal survey of 312 general practitioners who served 650 000 people in Edinburgh found that problems associated with ear syringing were failure of wax removal (29%), otitis media (17%), …

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