Microsuction or Irrigation: Which Works Best?
Microsuction vs irrigation
At Kent Wax Removal we offer both microsuction and irrigation ear wax removal. This article will outline what ear wax is then discuss both microsuction and irrigation in detail, noting the pros and cons of either method.
The first thing to note is that everybody is different and what may work for one may not work for another. Another important thing to clarify is that both methods of ear wax removal are considered safe, providing they are done by a competent practitioner. At Kent wax removal we assess each client holistically and give our advice based on their individual needs and our expert opinion.
What is ear wax (cerumen)?
Cerumen, or ear wax, is naturally occurring and it is produced in the ear canal. This region hosts a collection of glands. Sweat is produced by one of these glands and its function is to lubricate and clean the ear canal. As dead skin cells break off and move out of the ear canal, they combine with natural oils and sweat. The combination of these substances is what makes up ear wax.
Why do we need ear wax?
The auditory canal has very thin and sensitive skin. Ear wax serves as a protective barrier to trap foreign particles from damaging the skin. It also helps to fight off infection and to clean the auditory canal.
Can we remove the ear wax ourselves without treatment?
As our ears are self-cleaning, ear wax should naturally be expelled. This will happen without us even knowing. The motion of the moving jaw and general body/head movements aids this process.
However, this mechanism can fail in some people causing wax to become impacted. There are many reasons why people get impacted wax.
Here are a few of the reasons ear wax can become impacted:
- Persistent use of cotton buds, ear plugs or in-ear earphones
- The use of hearing aids
- Over production of ear wax
- Certain disabilities or medical conditions
- Narrow or unusually shaped ear canals
- Reduction in jaw movement or general movement
- Surgery to your ear altering the shape
- Hairy ears/ear canals
- Age. This is not a guarantee and is not a given for everyone. Age can only be a concern as the ear canals may collapse as you get older. Also reduced activity may have an impact
- Consistency of wax
How do I know if my ears are blocked with ear wax?
Some of the symptoms of blocked ears are outlined below:
- Blocked feeling in your ears
- Pressure in your ears
- Popping ears
- Sudden loss of hearing or muffled sound
- Whistling hearing aids
- Underperforming hearing aids
- Aching jaw
If you have any of these symptoms it may be that your ears are blocked with wax. There may be causes other than wax and at Kent Wax Removal we will use our expert knowledge to give you the best advice and appropriate action to take.
Microsuction involves inserting a suction tube into the ear canal. The suction tip is attached to a long plastic tube, which is then attached to a suction unit or machine. This sucks the wax from the ear down through the tube and into a disposable canister. A metal speculum will hold the ear open and straighten the canal.
Magnifying the ear canal is important so the clinician can perform the procedure safely. The device used to magnify the ear can be a large wall mounted device (Microscope) or head worn (Loupes). Each magnifying device will have varying levels of magnification meaning some give more clarity than others.
- The practitioner can see inside the ear canal (different equipment allows for varying levels of visibility)
- It is not always necessary to use ear drops beforehand
- Safe if you have perforated ears or have had surgery to your ears
- No water, so less messy
- Safe for those with mastoid cavities
- Very noisy
- Not ideal if you are a nervous, anxious or jumpy person
- Not the safest if someone is fidgety, has a cough or a medical condition that causes sudden jolts or movements
- It may not always be possible to remove very deep wax with microsuction depending on the practitioners visual equipment
- Very soft slushy wax can be harder and in some cases more dangerous to remove with microsuction
- There is risk of human error and ear trauma if not used properly
- Can be seen as quite invasive
Our microsuction machine is the SAM 12 general medical suction unit, which is extremely reliable and efficient. For our magnification, we use the Opticlar SLH Prismatic loupes to magnify the inside of the ear canal by 6 times. They are light weight and mobile, making them easy to transport for home visits. All of our equipment is considered to be top of the range.
Irrigation uses a gentle, regulated stream of water to dislodge wax blockages. A basin is held under the ear to catch the expelled wax and water.
- Quieter than microsuction
- Less invasive than microsuction
- Better if you are nervous or anxious
- The training and procedure is regulated
- Easier and often safer when removing very deep wax
- Better for softer wax, particularly when drops have been overused
- Cannot be used if you have a perforated ear drum
- Should not be used if you have an active infection
- Cannot be used if you have a mastoid cavity
- Caution advised if you have troublesome vertigo
- Caution advised if you have had previous surgery
- Should not be used if there are any open abrasions to the ear canal
- There is risk of human error and ear trauma if not used properly
- Ear drops must be used prior to treatment
At Kent Wax Removal, we use a machine called the ‘Earigator’. The Earigator warms the water to body temperature (and remains this way throughout) which is critical to prevent dizziness. The Earigator also features a magnifying lens which allows for improved visualisation. Many cheaper machines do not have these essential features. When in operation, a controlled flow of water is directed in the ear to flush out the blockage. This machine is considered to be top of the range.
I have heard irrigation is unsafe, is this true?
Irrigation has been given such a poor reputation over the last decade. When microsuction became the new trend, irrigation was, and still is, marketed by some companies as unsafe or less effective, but this is not the case.
Bad experiences are usually a result of inexperience, inadequate training and cheaper equipment. Most practices use what are called pulse irrigators because they are the most affordable. They are small machines that use jolting pulses of water to clear the blockage. Whilst these can be successful, they have their limitations compared to our equipment. In our opinion these are not adequate to perform the procedure to a high standard.
Many people, who have been put off by bad irrigation experiences in the past, have found our Earigator machine to be much more comfortable. The success rate is very high and people often report that it is more pleasurable than microsuction. We are big advocates of irrigation as a safe, comfortable and effective method of removing ear wax. The risks of microsuction and irrigation are also largely the same.
The clinician will use an otoscope to look in your ears and decide which method will be the safest, quickest and most effective. It may be necessary to use a combination of microsuction and irrigation to remove particularly stubborn ear wax. One of the benefits of using of Kent Wax Removal is that you are not limited to one method, which makes our success rate much higher. This means there is less chance of needing a follow up appointment, which is often chargeable.
We hope you found this article useful. If you have any further questions or queries regarding the methods of wax removal please do not hesitate to contact us. We look forward to hearing from you.