Microsuction ear wax removal: Do the benefits outweigh the side effects?
You’re probably preparing for your first microsuction ear wax removal appointment and wondering what microsuction is and if this procedure is the best for you. In this article, I’ll explain what I know about microsuction as an audiologist who has performed the procedure on thousands of ears. I will also answer some of my patients’ most common questions about microsuction ear wax removal.
Most patients wonder if they are the only ones suffering from ear wax build-up. The short answer is no. There are lots of people around the world in the same shoes. Research conducted in England and Wales shows that between 700,000 to 2 million adults suffer from this condition.
Excess earwax can cause distressing symptoms such as decreased hearing ability, tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in your ear), earache, and pressure in your ear. Over the years, various techniques have been developed for ear wax removal. These techniques include:
- ear syringing,
- ear irrigation,
- ear microsuction,
- endoscopic ear wax removal,
- Chinese ear cleaning,
- and others I probably have not heard of.
For this article, we’ll focus on the microsuction ear wax removal procedure.
What is ear microsuction?
“Micro” is derived from the word microscope and refers to the viewing mechanism used during this procedure. “Suction” refers to the machine used to suck out the ear wax. Hence, “ear microsuction” describes an ear wax removal technique where the clinician connects a suction probe to a suction machine to extract wax from the ear using a microscope as the primary viewing equipment.
How does ear microsuction work?
First, the clinician examines your ears with an otoscope or microscope. In more advanced practices, the clinician shows the patient a video of their ear canal.
Next, the clinician explains the procedure to the patient stating that they would use a suction probe connected to a suction machine to extract the wax safely while enhancing their view with a microscope.
Finally, the suction machine is set at a safe pressure level, and the procedure commences.
In most cases, when the procedure is performed well, patients do not report any discomfort. It is important to note that your ears may be sensitive if you have used cotton buds or certain ear drops that can erode your ear canal skin. You must agree with the clinician on a word to indicate if/when you’re in pain. For instance, the word “stop” can be used as a signal to immediately halt the procedure if you feel discomfort. These cases are rare.
Is it necessary to soften your ears before microsuction?
It is important to soften your ear wax with pre-treatment drops before microsuction. This makes for a more pleasurable experience. There are many over-the-counter ear drops, but we only recommend olive oil drops or sprays such as earol. Olive oil lubricates the ear canal and encourages the ear wax to slip out easily during the microsuction procedure. From experience, other ear drops such as sodium bicarbonate, hydrogen peroxide, and saline base drops should only be used for very hard wax and for a limited period.
Now, let me teach you the best technique to apply olive oil for maximum efficacy. Tilt your head completely to the side and apply a few drops or spray in the ear. Leave your head tilted or lying down for about 10-15 minutes. Apply twice daily for at least two days before your appointment. Where you fail to apply the olive oil before your appointment, most clinics would offer olive oil application on-site.
Can your ears get damaged from ear microsuction?
As with most medical procedures, ear microsuction has some general risks. I am not aware of studies that have been conducted to quantify the percentage of patients that suffer side effects from microsuction. Still, if our practice is anything to go by (and we see hundreds of patients monthly), the risks are almost non-existent when performed with care. That said, the general risks include but are not limited to tinnitus, scratch to the ear canal, vertigo, and perforation to the eardrum. If in 10 years I haven’t perforated a single eardrum, the chances are very slim. So I’ll say, know these risks but don’t worry.
Another con of microsuction is that the machine is quite loud, which means it can cause tinnitus. While there are guidelines we follow to ensure patients are at minimal risk, patients can sometimes get temporary tinnitus lasting from a few seconds to a few minutes. On rare occasions, patients develop permanent tinnitus. If you are particularly sensitive to noise or have been diagnosed with hyperacusis, it is important you let your clinician know as they may suggest another method of ear wax removal such as manual removal. Don’t hesitate to inform your clinician if you feel any discomfort during or after the procedure.
How often can you have ear microsuction?
You should visit the ear clinic if you notice any of the following symptoms irrespective of how recent you have had microsuction:
- decreased hearing ability
- pressure in your ear
However, to answer the question, the time between wax build-up for everyone varies. Some patients may need the procedure every three months, while others may only need it once every few years.
Does ear microsuction work?
Ear microsuction is very effective. It is one of the only procedures which guarantees instant relief for most cases. Of course, there is the odd occasion where the clinician would not be able to take out all of the wax at the first attempt. This is mainly in cases where the patient has a sensitive ear canal or has not softened the wax with ear drops prior to their appointment.
Microsuction is a gold-standard method for ear wax removal. Compared to other methods of ear wax removal, the risks are significantly low, the procedure is more comfortable, and the results are fantastic!
Londoners, let’s help you remove your ear wax. Book an ear wax removal appointment with us today. We offer both in-clinic and at-home services.
Daytime/after-work appointments: 8am – 8pm daily.
Emergency ear wax removal appointments: 9pm-7am.