Ear cleaning with oil but no water
June 22, 2011 7:59 AM   Subscribe

Ear cleaning with olive oil: do you successfully do this? If so, can you recommend any tricks for someone who currently can't follow it up by flushing with water (due to an ear infection)?

In one ear I have both an ear infection and a total wax impaction. My eardrum is infected too, but not perforated.

The doctor (an ENT specialist) told me she couldn't irrigate the ear or do anything else to clean out the wax until I've spent a week on antibiotics to clear up the infection.

She said I'm welcome to try drops of olive oil or mineral oil to dissolve the wax at home, but I must not get water in my ear until after it's no longer infected. She says oil is more effective than hydrogen peroxide or any of the commercial solutions like Murine (Murine is what I'm familiar with successfully using for past wax impactions at home).

When I google this, medical sites recommend following oil treatment with flushing out by water. I've tried lying with oil in my ear four times over the last two days (no water, just letting the oil run out after 20+ minutes) and it's made no difference yet.

The wax impaction sounds exactly like having a foam earplug in my ear. It doesn't hurt but it's crazily distracting (it's already been five days, and it will be six more days before I can go back to the doctor and have it irrigated).

Do you have ANY ideas for me other than just continuing the oil treatments and waiting? Thanks.
posted by sparrows to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are you on oral antibiotics or drops? I had the same thing many moons ago and they gave me prescription drops and they were oily so I think it was a combo of drugs in an oil base. It was 2ce a week for a week and then I went back. They curetted the ear then flushed it. Man, who knew how much junk is in an ear canal.

See if she can give drops like that. But if not, I would say mineral oil is thinner than olive oil.

I wouldn't mess with anything beyond the prescription drops or do what she said. Are you dizzy/nauseous too? I had that from the infection/impaction and it was horrible.

Feel better.
posted by stormpooper at 8:03 AM on June 22, 2011

Good question -- I'm on oral antibiotics and also steroid ear drops (4 times a day and they seem very thin; I leave them in for a while, then let them run out, then put in the oil).

Luckily I'm not feeling any pain or dizziness, and I only felt a little nausea.
posted by sparrows at 8:18 AM on June 22, 2011

Poking things in your ear may be exactly what you DON'T need right now, but have you tried an ear spoon kind of thing? These (available at your local drug store) are nice and flexible and actually scoop out the stuff, unlike Q-Tips. They work great for more dry wax as well as the stickier kind, and the non-spoony end is also good for those pesky itchy bits around the edge. Best of all, they're disposable.

Get someone tender to help ;)
posted by Madamina at 8:39 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think the oil is supposed to dissolve the wax. The oil is supposed to soften the wax to make it more likely to fall out of its own accord, or ease the pressure on your ear canal.
posted by dfriedman at 9:05 AM on June 22, 2011

Um. I'm wondering why your doctor won't take out the impacted wax. That's the very first thing my ENT did when I went to him a few weeks ago with impacted wax and an ear infection. Granted, I'm not a doctor, but he is and he took it out (with some tool, not irrigation) and I was really dizzy for a while afterward. It seems to me (logically, not medically) that the wax would be something you'd want to get rid of so the infection can heal? I don't know, clearly. All I know is I felt immeasurably better after it was gone.
posted by cooker girl at 9:09 AM on June 22, 2011

The doctor (an ENT specialist) told me she couldn't irrigate the ear or do anything else to clean out the wax until I've spent a week on antibiotics to clear up the infection.

I'm not a medical doctor so I wouldn't call BS to their face, but in your place, I would be going to a new ENT right about now.

I've had more ear infections than years I've been alive and I always get my ear cleaned out when infected. I usually go to the ear doctor precisely because of an infection and get my ears cleaned out at the same time.

I'm kind of confused anyways- the many ENTs I've been to always mention how they need to clean my ear out to see the infection's severity in the first place. And I never get my ear irrigated- they always use a combination of this pick thing and a suction thing.
posted by jmd82 at 9:10 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are you warming up the oil? It might help a bit more. Of course not hot, just a bit warm.

In my experience, when the clog is major, only water helps. It drives me nuts to feel clogged, so I feel your pain. Get better soon.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 9:29 AM on June 22, 2011

Yeah. Time for a 2nd opinion.

I've heard of ENTs recommending against irrigation in the case of a severe infection, but never actually of them sending a patient home with a blocked ear canal.

(I've had this happen to me twice. It is one of the singularly most unpleasant experiences I can think of, and I couldn't imagine withstanding it for an entire week. Fortunately, if/when they are able to irrigate or clean it, you get pretty much instantaneous relief. It's pretty nifty.)
posted by schmod at 9:29 AM on June 22, 2011

I used to just use the olive oil with no water and just put a teaspoon in. Better check whats ok with the infrection though. It works.
posted by Not Supplied at 9:31 AM on June 22, 2011

Nthing getting a second opinion - I had MONTHS of recurring earaches (AHHH it was awful) and finally went to an ENT (rather than my GP) who promptly suctioned all the crap out of my ears to see how bad the infection was then put me on drops.
posted by brilliantine at 10:05 AM on June 22, 2011

Yeah, I don't think I can stand 12 days total of the blockage. It is surprisingly distressing and crazy-making.

I'm going to stop trying the oil and try Murine, my old standby (no water -- mostly alcohol with 6% peroxide).

I also will pick up the Clinere spoon Madamina recommended and see tonight if my partner can use it in a way that gets the wax out rather than pushing it deeper in.
posted by sparrows at 10:49 AM on June 22, 2011

Here's the thing about taking our advice--we don't know what kind of infection you have. We haven't looked in your ear. We don't know your history. We don't know if you have a perforated eardrum (and I imagine your doctor doesn't either). People here regularly confuse outer ear infections like swimmer's ear with inner ear infections.

Seriously, before you change your treatment regimen or let someone stick something in your already infected ear, please call your doctor and tell them that it's driving you nuts and you want to fix it now and the olive oil isn't helping. If they tell you to screw off, okay, but at least give them the chance before you take our completely non-medical (and perhaps harmful) advice.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:29 PM on June 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

And just to be clear--I had ear infections all the time as a kid. Losing your hearing can happen because of impacted wax. It can also happen because of a ruptured eardrum. It is very uncomfortable and I lost a significant amount of hearing (it came back over time).

However, the number one thing you don't do with a ruptured eardrum is put a bunch of random stuff in it. I had to shower with a cotton ball in my ear.

We don't know if that's what's happening, but considering that your doctor told you not to put water in your ear, they might think it's a possibility.

I'm not trying to be a big bossy pants here but your hearing is precious. Please don't take chances with it without at least talking to a doctor.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:35 PM on June 22, 2011

Thanks, the young rope-rider. That is really good point to make in any medical thread.

I totally will be careful. I should've been clearer that if there's any feeling the spoon would not just scoop out the wax, we won't try it (honestly I'm not optimistic we'll get to try it). And the doc didn't object when I asked about Murine, just said she's found oil to be "more effective."

I will try calling where she is.
posted by sparrows at 1:00 PM on June 22, 2011

If you can't get hold of the doctor directly ask to speak to the nurse. Sometimes the nurse can make things happen.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:20 PM on June 22, 2011

Yeah, the new york eye and ear infirmary is pretty much the place to go around here.

Still, that is really sucky and miserable news. Hang in there.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:32 PM on June 22, 2011

My doctor gave me a little syringe and told me to put a couple ml of mineral oil (or olive oil) into my ear at night. Then I put a small amount of a cotton ball or tissue in to keep the oil from dripping out onto your pillow. I've also noticed that the times my ears get completely blocked are often when I'm sick. Maybe the antibiotics will help anyways.
posted by carolr at 7:33 AM on June 23, 2011

« Older What's new in the world of Search Marketing?   |   I want to be a contender. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.