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Things to know about flushing the ear

Also called ear syringing or irrigation

About the benefits, risks, procedures & instruments of ear flushing

In this article, you will learn about the most important points surrounding ear irrigation. If you have any questions or notice discomfort after such a rinse, please contact a hearing care professionals at Amplifon for an appointment. Additionally, if you are experiencing any hearing loss, we offer free online hearings tests to help determine whether your ability to hear is currently at 100%.

What exactly is meant by ear irrigation?

Ear irrigation or ear cleaning is a process used to clear away excess earwax or other substances from the ear canal. This painless procedure is usually carried out by an ENT doctor to remove or prevent earwax build-up, inflammation, or other conditions that could temporarily or permanently affect hearing.

Is regular ear syringing necessary?

Ear irrigation or ear syringing isn't needed all the time. It is typically done after an otoscopy, which looks for the presence of earwax plugs or other substances that could obstruct the ear canal and lead to symptoms such as:

Cost & financing of ear flushing

The cost of ear flushing can vary widely depending on the clinic where it is carried out and the method used. Are ear cleanings covered by insurance? Some health insurance plans may cover all or part of the cost of the procedure. To find out more about the financing options, you should contact your insurance provider.

Overview on advantages, disadvantages & risks

Below, you'll find a rundown of the most important pros and cons or health risks of ear irrigation. You should talk to your family doctor to see if ear flushing is necessary for your individual case.

Advantage 1: Ear cleaning from earwax

Earwax blockages can happen to people of all ages. This occurs when the earwax that is produced to protect and lubricate the ears can't drain properly and builds up in the ear canal, forming a plug that hardens over time and causes symptoms like pain and hearing loss. Ear irrigation is often effective in resolving the issue.

Advantage 2: Removal of foreign bodies in the ear

Ear irrigation can not only remove earwax plugs, but also other foreign objects that have entered the ear canal. For example, in kids, beads, stones, small toys, or paper balls can become lodged in their ears, while in adults, pieces of cotton buds, sand, or even insects that have accidentally gotten in the ear canal can cause blockages.

Disadvantages & potential risks

Although ear irrigation is usually a simple and painless procedure, it's important to handle the procedure with care, as the ears are delicate. There are risks associated with ear irrigation too. It's critical to avoid water flowing back into the ear as it may lead to infections or inflammation. For instance, if water gets stuck behind earwax, it may result in an infection in the outer ear.

It's also vital to make sure the water is applied with the right pressure to loosen the earwax, but not too strong that it could harm the eardrum. If the water isn't warmed to body temperature before use, it may cause complications such as dizziness, bradycardia, or nausea.

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Carrying out ear syringing

Ear irrigation, or ear syringing, is done as an outpatient procedure and involves a few steps: first, a preliminary examination of the ear with an otoscope, followed by the option to use softening drops, and then the flushing of the external ear canal to remove a blockage of earwax (ceruminous plug) or any other substance.

In these cases you should not flush your ear

Avoid irrigating the ears if you have an ear infection or a punctured eardrum. If you're uncertain, speak with your doctor before taking any further action.

Step one: Examination of the ear

The first step is to undergo an otoscopy (ear examination). This exam is carried out by an ENT doctor as an outpatient procedure to determine if there is earwax or other substances obstructing the ear canal. To do this, the doctor typically utilizes an otoscope. This device is equipped with a light that illuminates the external ear canal and eardrum, a magnifying lens, and a mirror that is inserted into the eardrum to provide a clear view. In some cases, an optical microscope may be used to enhance the visual field. This step is crucial as it helps to determine the extent of the blockage and select the appropriate method for removal.

Step two: Choosing the right instrument

Once the presence of an earwax plug is confirmed, the ENT doctor removes it by flushing the ear with sterile water or a saline solution. If the plug is hard, the doctor may use softening drops to make it easier to remove. The flushing is then performed with lukewarm water to minimize any damage to the sensitive ear.

For irrigation, the doctor uses a syringe without a needle. After the procedure, the patient tilts their head slightly to allow for easier drainage of the earwax. Depending on the size of the plug or foreign object in the ear canal (such as insects or small stones), the doctor may also use Hartmann forceps, an ear shower, or curettage. Curettage involves using a bent rod-like tool called a curette to mechanically remove the plug. Suction is also a common method where a tube is attached to a suction device to effortlessly remove the earwax.

How long does an irrigation take?

The irrigation of the ear canal may need to be done several times until the earwax plug is loosened and flows out. Regardless, the procedure is brief, typically taking only 15-20 minutes.

Can ears be flushed independently at home?

Since the ear is a delicate organ, flusing it can be risky if not done by a specialist, it's not recommended to do it yourself. But, in case of a partial blockage, you can do it at home with the aid of some special gear.

Overview of instruments for flushing

It is important to keep in mind, as mentioned above, that the ear is a delicate organ, so trying to irrigate it yourself at home may not be the best idea. Before using any of the instruments below, be sure to reach out to your doctor to make sure that the ear irrigation won't cause any harm to your health.

Ear irrigation kits

You can find various ear irrigation sets in the market. They come with a syringe without a needle or small tubes that can be used to carefully squirt in some sterile water or saline solution into the ear canal, after warming it up to body temperature. There's also cerumen dissolving sprays available that can help dissolve the earwax and make it easier to remove.

Alternative methods for flushing ears

Aside from traditional methods, natural or alternative medicine techniques can also be utilized to remove earwax. This could include trying to soften the cerumen with a saline solution or warm olive oil/sweet almond oil. Jaw movement and chewing can assist in dislodging old cerumen from the ear canal. As the cerumen moves closer to the ear opening, it dries up and can easily be cleared using a soft cloth or cotton ball.
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