Cerumenolytics, or ear wax loosening drops, coupled with mild irrigation is arguably the best home remedy for relieving an ear wax build up. But with the overwhelming number of ear drops for clogged ears available, deciding which product is best for you, your child or your partner can seem quite challenging. This article hopes to clarify some of the confusion by explaining the differences between the various types of drops according to their active ingredients so that you know exactly what you’re putting into your ear, what the possible side effects could be and how targeted the product is likely to be at specifically alleviating plugged up ears.
There are primarily two classes of ear drops for ear wax:
- Oils and other fats, most often consisting of: olive oil, mineral oil, peanut oil and glycerine.
- Foaming agents, which include carbamide peroxide, hydrogen peroxide and sodium bicarbonate based products.
More detail will be provided below about these groups of ear drops, covering exactly how they function, the recommended ways to use them, and also some of the most popular products available for each class. As has been mentioned before, do not put ear drops into your own or anyone else’s ears if a tear in the eardrum is possible, or if your ear has been operated on or injured recently. First consult your doctor before attempting any self-prescribed treatment if you are unsure.
Also check the package insert if you are in search of products for baby ear wax removal as some are not suitable for children below a certain age. Certain medications are also not suitable for pregnant women, so expecting mothers, be certain you and your baby are safe before using any product. To be absolutely safe if you are pregnant, rather stay with pure olive oil, mineral oil or glycerine to clean ear wax build up.
Oils and Other Fats
How do they Work?
Oil based ear drops, including glycerine, work by softening the wax. In essence, they dissolve the wax in a medium of somewhat similar molecular structure, thinning it out and thereby making it a lot easier to move out of the ear. Unlike foaming agents, oil ear drops don’t dry the skin of the canal out, which can lead to irritation and itching. They are considered a lot milder than peroxide and carbonate drops, but this does not mean that they are less effective.
A word of caution – it is tempting to use olive or other oils available in supermarkets for cooking purposes. They have, however, not been sterilized and could potentially introduce bacteria or other microbes into the ear which could cause an infection. Olive oil, in particular, is commonly available at pharmacies in a sterilized form, where it has been heated to destroy all micro-organisms and thereby making it safe for dropping into ears.
What is the Best Way to Use Them?
Below is a recommended procedure to use once you have concluded you have an impaction, in other words, when you have had an ear clogged for days:
- Tilt your head to one side.
- Using a dripper, which you have sterilized by rinsing it with boiling water, suck up a small amount of the sterilized oil or glycerine and drip three or four drops into the ear. If the product you are using has a dropper, do not rinse it. Instead use it as received and close the dripper tip when you’re done.
- Keep your head tilted for 2-3 minutes so the oil/glycerine can work its way down the canal and loosen the compaction deep within the ear. This step is very important for oil/glycerine based drops. If you’re in a hurry, rather administer them when you have time, otherwise they will be far less effective.
- Then, tilt your head the other way and repeat with the next ear if necessary, holding a cloth or cotton ball lightly against the ear that has just been treated to catch any oil that may fall out.
- Wipe away any excess oil from the outside of the ears. Do not insert a cotton swab into the ear as this will re-plug the wax and undo any benefit from the treatment.
- Repeat these steps up to three times a day until the blockage is gone. This will likely happen naturally within one or two weeks. An irrigation can also be used to speed up the process after using the oil drops for at least three days.
Using two or three drops of oil or glycerine once a week in each ear can serve as a good preventative measure if ear wax build up is common for you.
What are some of the Top Oil/Glycerine Based Ear Drops for Clogged Ears?
Sterilized olive, peanut and mineral oil ear drops are readily available at all pharmacies. Just make sure to use a well-established brand so that you know the product has been properly handled to maintain purity. Baby oil is also fine for use in ears.
Several commercial products are also available which generally include an oil or glycerine as an additional active ingredient for loosening wax. Often, these product’s primary purpose is to relieve pain or fight an infection which could have side effects of their own. Although generally mild, you should always read the package insert to make sure you or your child are not allergic to any of the active ingredients which could lead to more serious complications.
Some of the most commonly available OTC products are:
- Kyrosol® – a glycerine based product which is offered in a complete package with a syringing system to soften and then irrigate the ear duct.
- Earex® Advance Ear Drops – similar to Kyrosol® in that they are glycerine based. There is in fact an entire range of products from Earex some of which include other primary ingredients. In particular, the Earex Plus drops include choline salicylate which reduces pain caused by swelling in the case of infections such as those of the middle ear.
- Cerumol® – available in original and olive oil varieties. The original drops contain an antibacterial and antifungal ingredient known as chlorobutanol for clearing infections. They also contain peanut oil which softens wax and clears blockages.
How do Foaming Agents Work?
Drops containing foaming agents work when the active chemical reacts and releases a gas when it is dripped into the ear. This effervescence breaks up the wax, making it softer and allowing it to be moved out a lot easier. You will know you are using a foaming ear drop product as you most likely will hear a fizzing or crackling sound in the ear (although if you don’t, this doesn’t mean it’s not working).
Since they are more aggressive than oils, they are generally not recommended for children under the age of 12 as their skin is still too sensitive. Rather use oil based drops in these situations or else contact your GP for further advice.
How do you use Foaming Ear Drops?
- To reduce the chances of dizziness or vertigo being experienced by the person receiving the drops, gently heat the drops by holding the dropper bottle in your hand for about 5 minutes before administering them. Oils don’t normally need to be preheated because they warm up a lot easier than aqueous or water-based products (because, scientifically speaking, they have a lower specific heat), which most foaming agents are. They also move down the ear canal a lot more slowly allowing them to heat up to body temperature before reaching deep enough into the ear to cause dizziness.
- As with oil based drops, tilt the head sideways before administering the required number of drops according to the package insert of the product. Do not exceed recommended dosages.
- Keep the head tilted for one minute or so to allow the solution to reach deep into the ear.
- Wipe away any excess product with a tissue, then tilt the head the other way and repeat b and c with the other ear if needed.
- When finished, don’t rinse the dripper with tap water as this may contaminate the product.
- Repeat as many times a day as recommended by the manufacturer (usually twice a day).
- If the blockage isn’t cleared within 5 days, try using irrigation with warm, distilled water. Otherwise, visit your doctor for further advice.
The video below goes over similar instructions for using ear drops but includes a recommendation for pulling the ear in certain directions to straighten the canal. How the ear is pulled is different for adults and children, which is quite interesting.
Top Foaming Ear Drops for Plugged Up Ears?
Products with carbamide peroxide as the main ingredient are definitely the most common and readily available. The ever popular Debrox® is one such product and several others include: Ear Clear, Murine and Major Ear Drops. All should show similar levels of efficacy and work in the same way.
Sodium bicarbonate drops include Care Sodium Bicarb Drops. These differ from peroxide drops in that they release carbon dioxide instead of oxygen when dripped into the ear. They are often touted as milder alternatives to the carbamide drops. Whether they are in fact is unclear.
Overall, choosing the best ear drops for clogged ears needn’t be too difficult. Generally, oil/glycerine drops are milder and are safer for younger children than foaming agent based products. People with sensitive skin are also recommended to rather stick with oils for alleviating ear wax impactions. If oils are not working, then either visit your doctor or try a foaming agent with the proviso that irritation and drying of the canal skin is a possibility (but is certainly not a given).
Irrigation can also be used after using drops for at least a few days, once the plug has been thinned and loosened somewhat. If the combination of drops and irrigation doesn’t work, then professional assistance may be needed to fully remove your blockage.
I sincerely hope this article helped clarify any uncertainties you may have about the various ear drop products available. If it did, please share with your friends.
OlWomen.com is also a great resource for more tips on how to get rid of clogged ears.