Can ear wax removal cause tinnitus?
December 6, 2010 9:50 PM   Subscribe

Can an ENT-administered ear wax removal cause tinnitus?

I went to an ENT specialist in October because I thought my hearing might be going bad. The doctor then cleaned my ears using a suction tube and a pick of some sort, and pulled large amounts of wax from both ears.

For a week afterwards, I felt like I had super-human hearing. However, I did notice a ringing in my left ear when lying in bed or in the bathroom. It seems that when it's quiet, I hear this high-pitched humming in my left-ear. It's not loud enough to keep me from sleeping.

But I'm concerned that the cleaning could have caused it. The procedure hurt a lot, and it was extremely loud.

I went back to the ENT in November, and told him my concerns. He said that the ear cleaning didn't cause tinnitus after inspecting my ear drums, except maybe that by removing that wax, I was noticing sounds that I couldn't hear before. He said that if I still hear it after six weeks, that I come back for scans/tests to rule out more serious problems.

I don't like this ENT, he always seems rushed and unprofessional. When I discovered the tinnitus, my thoughts that flooded my mind were that I needed to sue him for damaging my ears.

What should I do? Did this guy seriously damage my ears through aggressive cleaning measures?
posted by philosophistry to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Impacted ear wax can cause tinnitus, but it's not permanent. I doubt the cleaning did, but he may not have done a good job with it, if he was rushed. I once had a friend who went to get her ears cleaned not once, but twice after complaints of ear ache, and it wasn't until the third time that the doctor noticed a bar napkin that had gotten stuck in her ear canal after she used it as a ad hoc ear plug at a concert.

Go get another cleaning. Maybe go to another doctor.
posted by empath at 10:00 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not an ENT, but I am a student of audiology, and a cleaning shouldn't be able to cause permanent damage to the cochlea (which would cause the ringing). It's possible he did a crummy job and left some wax in there, and maybe impacted it further, which could be a cause.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 10:04 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had an ENT clean out my ears once and yes, it hurt like hell. Whether it was the tugging on the eardrum or simply pain, I actually passed out. It's more likely the latter since one reason it may be so painful is that hairs in your ear canal are also being pulled out along with the wax.

Unrelated to that, I had an ugly incidence of aural fullness, dizziness, and tinnitus for a few days, which my hypochondria and WebMD led me to believe was the beginning of Meniere's Disease. Two other ENTs said no, but could not diagnose it. They said (correctly, thankfully) that it was just a transient episode. Treatment:

Meclizine (OTC available as Bonine)
No salt
No caffeine
Drink lots of water.

That actually seemed to work.
posted by holterbarbour at 10:35 PM on December 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

holterbarbour: "I had an ENT clean out my ears once and yes, it hurt like hell."

This is not necessary. My family doctor once said I had some ear wax stuck to my eardrum after a week of being unable to hear. He used a metal loop (loupe?) to pull on it, but once it got to the point of pain (and I admit it hurt A LOT), all he did was use a big syringe (needleless) full of warm water to irrigate it and it floated right out.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:53 PM on December 6, 2010

@IndigoRain Oh, I'm not saying he did it right. :) I'm just saying that it can be very painful even if not actually causing any harm.
posted by holterbarbour at 12:46 AM on December 7, 2010

Nthing that he may have impacted the wax further or not removed it all. In my experience, it's pretty difficult to get it all out, especially when there's a lot of it or it's quite impacted.

Every ear cleaning I've had has been excruciating and most have involved bleeding from the ear canal afterward. I had no idea that it was possible to perform the procedure relatively painlessly. I'll keep it in mind!
posted by easy, lucky, free at 1:00 AM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure where the pain comments are coming from ... maybe I've been lucky, but I've just been asked to put some sort of ear was weakening stuff in my ear for an hour (and tilt my head sideways to let it settle in), then they just wash my ear out with hot water repeatedly till the big piece of gunk floats out.

But I definitely understand thinking I'd damaged my eardrums... for maybe two weeks after a really bad one I experienced both the superhuman hearing, and the worry of having damaged my eardrums. It went away gradually. YMMV.
posted by Admira at 2:07 AM on December 7, 2010

You've had someone mucking around in your ear canal. Even if done right, that shit's uncomfortable.
posted by valkyryn at 3:58 AM on December 7, 2010

It's been my experience that any ringing in the ears associated with removal of impacted earwax has been temporary (maybe up to a week, definitely periodic). If it doesn't go away, by all means, see another ENT for an evaluation.
posted by FergieBelle at 6:40 AM on December 7, 2010

I am SO not an ENT. However, tinnitus is caused by hair cell death in the cochlea (though the exact mechanism is poorly understood.)

A sufficiently loud, sudden noise can kill hair cells (acoustic trauma), but we're talking gunshots.

He may be a jerk, but I would *guess* your ENT is probably right. OTOH -- it's your hearing, and there's no reason (other than $$$) to not get a second opinion. The second doc may be able to explain things more to your satisfaction. Plus points: the next time you need an ENT, you may have someone you trust better.

FWIW, I've gone to two different ENTs for two different (non) issues, and neither had what I'd call great interpersonal skills.
posted by endless_forms at 7:24 AM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe your tinnitus developed independently during the period of time your earwax built up. Now that it's been removed you are more aware of it due to the better hearing?
I have tinnitus myself and dislike it IMMENSELY. The only thing I've ever gotten from doctors is sympathy (you have mine, eh!).
posted by No Shmoobles at 9:57 AM on December 7, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers folks. I'm going to use baby oil and water to irrigate my ears over the next couple days. If it doesn't clear in a week, I'm going to visit a new ENT.
posted by philosophistry at 12:10 PM on December 7, 2010

Response by poster: I irrigated my troublesome ear for a week, and the tinnitus declined significantly, to the point where I wonder if I started to notice it after the ENT's cleaning, even though it had been there before.

If the sounds get worse, I'm probably going to see a new ENT just to make sure it isn't a tumor or something scary like that.
posted by philosophistry at 12:28 AM on December 15, 2010

Response by poster: It's been 8 months since that first incident. I still have the tinnitus but it's faint, only when my bedroom is quiet, and usually if I have my "bad" ear against my pillow. The other day, though, I kind of freaked out, because I thought it got worse. And so I set an appointment with a new ENT. But then the next day, I paid more attention, and I couldn't hear the ringing. And so I canceled my appointment.

My policy is to check in with an ENT if I'm very sure it's gotten worse, which it hasn't.
posted by philosophistry at 9:41 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

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