Ear wax self-irrigation prevents repeat clinic visits

Self-irrigation of ear wax using a bulb syringe can cut the need for patients to visit clinics, UK research has shown.

Ear wax removal: significant healthcare cost at present
Ear wax removal: significant healthcare cost at present

Hampshire GP Dr Richard Coppin and colleagues believe such a policy would 'demedicalise' the problem of ear wax removal.

It would also save patients the time and cost involved in attending clinics, they point out.

The researchers estimate that UK clinic staff carry out nearly two million irrigation procedures per year.

Although drops are often used to soften wax before irrigation, there is limited evidence that self-treatment with drops alone is a satisfactory treatment without mechanical removal of wax, the researchers said.

Dr Coppin and his team studied 234 patients with occluding ear wax over two years.

Patients were assigned to one of two groups. The self-irrigation group were given ear drops, a bulb syringe and instructions on its use and re-use. The control group received ear drops, then in-clinic irrigation.

After two years, patients' notes were searched for details of consultations relating to ear wax. The researchers found that 60% of patients assigned to self-administration had repeat consultations for occluding ear wax, compared with 73% of the control group. Dr Coppin and colleagues said their results supported the idea of using self-treatment rather than routine attendance with a clinician.

'Self-irrigation may offer a significantly less costly alternative, with patients attending family practice clinics only if they are unable to clear the problem satisfactorily.'

Even though ear irrigation is often carried out by practice nurses, rather than GPs, it still represents a significant health cost, they said. 'Encouraging the initial use of bulb syringes could, certainly in the subsequent two years, reduce the number of clinic irrigations by around 0.9 million in the UK,' they said.

But they added: 'Larger effectiveness studies, as well as research to assess the incidence of adverse events, are required to inform future policy.'

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