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New research: Decline of ear wax services is ‘not good enough’ 

A new study by University of Manchester audiologists has highlighted the difficulties people face with ear wax build up.

The findings are published today in the British Journal of General Practice as more and more people face the prospect of ear wax removal services being discontinued at their GP surgeries. 

However, despite the withdrawal of services, ear wax build up is still a major reason for GP consultations; with more than 2 million people every year in the UK needing ear wax removal, say the research team led by Professor Kevin Munro at The University of Manchester and NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre. 

 The research team surveyed 500 adults who used NHS ear wax removal services and found the most common and troubling symptom of blocked ears was hearing difficulty. 

 The study found: 

  • 9 out of 10 of those surveyed said hearing difficulty was at least moderately bothersome. 
  • 6 out of 10 reported it to be very/extremely bothersome. 
  • After removal of the ear wax, more than 8 out of 10 people reported an immediate improvement. 


Crystal Rolfe, Associate Director for Health at RNID, said:

“This study continues to back up our evidence that many people with ear wax build up are not able to access the support they need via the NHS which can lead to people taking removal into their own hands with a serious risk of permanently damaging their hearing and their ears.   

“We’ve heard of people in agony with pain, and depressed at the lack of support they’ve received from health professionals. Some people are unable to leave the house, or are left using a notepad to communicate. Someone with ear wax build-up used to be treated in a week at their GP, but now the service has been withdrawn people who can’t afford private treatment are left with no options. This isn’t good enough. 

“RNID are calling for three commitments; ear wax removal services to be brought back into primary care or community settings. For the DHSC and NHS England to explore current innovations in delivering ear wax removal services to make sure people can access timely and appropriate treatment. And the NHS to publish clear information on how people can safely manage ear wax build-up themselves at home.” 

Increasing evidence

Last year, RNID released their ear wax report called Access Blocked: The Impact of Cutting NHS Ear Wax Removal Services which revealed the difficulties faced by people who need their ear wax professionally removed. 

 Our report found:  

  1. 73% of respondents with ear wax build-up experienced hearing loss, and 37% experienced tinnitus. Half of respondents experienced earache or discomfort, and a quarter experienced dizziness.  
  1. 26% of survey respondents could not afford to get their ear wax removed privately, which can cost between £50-£100.This was especially problematic for hearing aid wearers, who need ear wax removed more regularly.   
  1. Cost for private treatment and long waits for ear wax removal at hospital led many respondents to attempt to remove ear wax themselves, although two thirds did not feel confident doing this.  
  1. Many of the methods people described to remove ear wax were dangerous, including hair clips, paper clips, toothpicks, cotton buds, and Hopi ear candles.  
  1. After trying to remove ear wax themselves, only 20% of respondents said their problems went away, whilst 55% of people noticed no change in their condition. 1 in 10 said their symptoms got worse, or they caused themselves injury which required medical attention. 

What we’re calling for

  1. NHS wax removal to be fully funded and available, in line with NICE guidance, in primary and community care settings   
  1. The Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England to explore current innovations to removal methods and the pathway such as PCN, pharmacy, or audiology led wax removal services and promote examples of good practice.  
  1. NHS England to publish clear advice on self-management and disseminate to health and social care professionals, and the general public   

Take action

RNID is asking everyone unable to access ear wax removal on the NHS to email their MP, MSPs, MSs, or MLAs, calling on them to make sure advice and guidance on wax removal services is improved and everyone who needs professional ear wax removal can get it.
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