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Ask Keir: Ear wax

Ask Keir is a column aiming to answer all your health questions. If you want to know about that funny looking lump that won’t go away, why that student doctor keeps poking you or anything at all to do with health get in touch at: [email protected]

All questions will of course be kept confidential and anonymous.

Question of the Week

I’ve had blocked ears for ages now and they just wont clear up. I’ve put a drop of olive oil in them for over two weeks like my GP suggested and it still hasn’t got any better. I use to use cotton buds but she said that might make it worse. Any suggestions?

Having blocked ears is such a common ailment that over 2 and a half million people seek help per year. It can be persistent, painful and just plain annoying but there are many ways to treat it and most of the time it either resolves itself or the treatment works.

First off here’s a quick low down of the basics. Blocked ears are most commonly caused by earwax. Although it can be a right nuisance and it may not be the prettiest thing it is however pretty darn useful. It’s properties somewhat surprisingly include cleaning, lubricating and protecting your ear from dirt, bacteria and water.

However as with all of the bodies systems sometimes something can go wrong. Some people end up producing more earwax than they can get rid of and this increases the likelihood of a blockage.

Also as you get older your ear wax becomes drier and this also increases the chance that your ears will get all blocked up. Another risk factor is some people just have very curvy ear canals and that causes them to get blocked more regularly because the wax has difficulty getting out.

There are also things that you can do that make it worse. One being the use of cotton buds. These are surprising accomplices in the crime of blocked ears and make up one of the main causes.

Now the treatment options. As you’ve said olive oil drops are one of the first line of treatments and prove very successful in helping people.

Another great healer is time (sorry about the cliché) but more often than not nothing is needed to be done other than let your body sort itself out. However if the problems persist a treatment called ear irrigation may be used. This involves a specialist who will use pressurised water to ‘flush’ out your ear and they may pull your ear to straighten the ear canal to assist.

Although it sounds slightly daunting it shouldn’t be painful but it might feel a little strange as the water is squirted around your ear. There are a few other treatments as well but they are rarely used and not really worth going into.

Remember if you have any further problems or anything you’re worried about just check in with your GP.

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