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HealthInfo Aoraki South Canterbury

Waxy ears

Ngā taringa taeturi

Your ears naturally produce wax (cerumen) to protect the skin in your ear. This can sometimes build up and block your ear canal.

Symptoms of waxy ears

Symptoms of wax building up can include:

Treating waxy ears

Do not insert cotton wool buds or similar objects into your ear to try to clean out the blockage. This can make things worse as the wax is often pushed deeper inside. Accidentally grazing your ear canal can cause an ear infection.

Use ear drops instead. This softens the wax, allowing it to run out of your ear. You can buy ear drops at your pharmacy.

Olive oil is a great alternative to ear drops. Simply place a few drops in your ear each day for three to seven days to soften the wax. You can use a teaspoon to apply the oil.

Find out how to use ear drops in this leaflet.

If ear drops do not fix the problem, you might need to get your ears microsuctioned or syringed at an ear hygiene clinic.


With microsuction, a nurse uses a small microscope to look in your ear and removes the wax with a low-pressure suction tube. This is usually done at a hearing clinic in the community.

You may feel some discomfort, tickling or dizziness during microsuction.

Ear syringing

Ear syringing is where lukewarm water is squirted into your ear canal to dislodge softened wax, which then falls out with the water.

You may feel some discomfort or dizziness during ear syringing.

Ear syringing is only effective with softened wax. Before you book an appointment, make sure you have used softening ear drops or olive oil in your ears for at least five days.

Ear syringing is not suitable for everyone. For example, children and people who have had a recent ear infection. Ask your nurse or doctor if ear syringing is suitable for you.

Self-care for waxy ears

You can reduce the need for syringing or microsuctioning by regularly using olive oil in your ears. Apply two or three drops in each ear once a week. This can be particularly useful if you use a hearing aid or ear plugs.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed October 2023.


Page reference: 291959

Review key: HIEIG-48027