Bi-Carbonate of Soda for Ear Wax Removal?

How effective is it?

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There appears to be much debate on-line about the best method of removing troublesome ear-wax.  The truth is that ear-wax only really becomes troublesome when the ear-canal becomes occluded - blocked or almost completely blocked by a gradual build up of wax.  Under these circumstances whatever is administered into the ear-canal does not really penetrate very deeply and only serves to soften or breakdown the outer layers of that plug of wax.  

We at Hearing Matters performed a short study of two methods of earwax softening on clients we saw in our clinics.  Patients who had booked in for wax removal after administering their own treatments for varying periods of time. We took 10 patients who had used an olive-oil spray and 10 who had been using a solution of bi-carbonate of soda and compared the findings.



The first observation to make from these findings is that all 20 patients needed wax removal as neither method had alleviated their symptoms entirely and there was still significant amounts of earwax remaining in their ear canals. After removal of wax by micro-suction we made observations about the state of the ear canals and ear drum and recorded this with a video-otoscope ( a means of photographing the ear canal down to the ear-drum ).  In 7 of the 10 cases that had used a bi-carbonate of soda solution there was a more irritated/reddened appearance to the skin lining of the ear canal than one would normally find.  This compared to only two such cases of the 10 patients who had been using an olive oil based method.  

We are aware that this is only a very small sample and we intend to run a more comprehensive comparison with greater detail and more specific questions about how often the softening agents had been administered and for how long.  However, from this small sample our initial advice would be that neither method proves very effective at removing stubborn plugs of ear wax but use of such solutions/oils does make that removal easier.  We would however recommend an olive oil - preferably administered from a spray bottle - for softening ear wax prior to removal.  It appears that this is less aggressive and less harmful to the delicate outer layers of epithelium(skin) that line the ear canal wall.

Brian Unsworth - Clinical Audiologist