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Ear syringing unsafe and doesn't work, health chiefs warn

7 December 2017 08:18am


Attempting to improve patients’ hearing by “ear syringing” is unsafe and ineffective, the NHS practice watchdog has warned.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence ruled that using a large manual syringe to pump water into the ear canal risks permanent damage.

In new guidance, the organisation also warned against using cotton buds to clean ears.

Instead, Nice recommends using an electronic irrigator as a means of removing built-up ear wax contributing to hearing loss.

It said the procedure, where a machine pumps water into the ear at a controlled pressure, is safer.

Health chiefs want to see the service increasingly used at GP surgeries or community clinics, avoiding the need for referrals to specialist ear, nose and throat clinics.

Other accepted methods of earwax removal include microsuction and manual removal, Nice added.

Katherine Harrop-Griffiths, consultant in audiovestibular medicine and chairwoman of the guideline committee, said: "Earwax build-up which is causing hearing problems should be managed in primary or community care. Ear irrigation is an effective method of removing earwax.

“Ear drops should be used to soften the wax before irrigation, either immediately before or for up to five days before the procedure."

The use of a metal syringe risks damaging the tympanic membrane and the oval and round windows of the ear.

It also presents a risk because of the difficulty controlling water pressure, which can increase the damage, and can be challenging to disinfect.

Professor Mark Baker, director of the centre for guidelines at Nice, said: "Our draft recommendations can help improve care for people with hearing loss through better management of earwax and referring people with symptoms to the right service at the right time.

"We encourage those working in primary and specialist services, patients and stakeholders to comment on the proposed advice."

 

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