Continued services for people suffering from impacted ear wax are crucial

Continued services for people suffering from impacted ear wax are crucial
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A new study by the University of Manchester audiologists has highlighted the difficulties people face with impacted ear wax.

Impacted ear wax causes symptoms like hearing loss, earache, ringing in the ears and vertigo. Excess ear wax usually falls out of its own; however, for some people, seeking support from specialised GP services is the only way to address this.

New research has now indicated that more ear wax removal services available at GP surgeries are being discontinued, despite impacted ear wax being a prominent condition faced by many people.

The findings are published in the British Journal of General Practice. 

Impacted ear wax is a major reason for GP appointments

More than two million people in the UK require removal, according to the research team led by Professor Kevin Munro at The University of Manchester and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC). Furthermore, ear wax remains a problem in care homes, with up to 44% of residents with dementia requiring support.

The researchers found that:

  • Nine out of ten of those surveyed said the hearing difficulty was at least moderately bothersome.
  • Six out of ten reported it to be very/extremely bothersome.
  • After the removal of the ear wax, more than eight out of ten people reported an immediate improvement.

Kevin Munro, Professor of Audiology at The University of Manchester and Manchester BRC Hearing Health Theme Lead said: “If anyone tries simulating the effect of impacted wax by walking around with their fingers plugging their ears for a few days, they’ll soon realise that it is a serious issue.

“The recommendations from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) could not be clearer- NHS ear wax removal services should be provided in the community.

“There are multiple reasons why GP surgeries are ceasing to provide ear wax removal services. The traditional method of syringing ears is no longer recommended, but there are newer and safer methods for flushing wax out of the ear.

“There is also a misunderstanding that using ear drops to soften the wax will be enough to resolve the problem, but there is little evidence to support this claim. Once the wax has been softened, it needs to be flushed out of the ear or vacuumed up, neither of which can be done at home without expertise.

“Perhaps one solution is that GP surgeries could collaborate as a network as the portable nature of modern ear wax removal equipment is ideal for moving to different locations.”

Many people cannot afford private ear wax removal

There is currently no evidence that supports at-home ear wax treatments, according to the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

Concerns have been raised in parliament about how many people are being referred to hospital-based ear wax clinics which have resulted in long wait times and poor use of specialist services. Furthermore, a 2022 Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) report called Access blocked: the impact of cutting NHS ear wax removal services, illuminated that many people are being forced to pay £50 to £100 every time they need to remove impacted ear wax. More than a quarter of people told RNID they couldn’t afford to get their ear wax removed privately.

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