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What Is an Ear Saline Solution?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 01, 2021

The ears produce wax, a natural compound that protects the ear canal. When it accumulates, you need to remove it to prevent your ears from developing hearing difficulties. When you clean the ear, it’s essential to be mindful about safety. Some cleaning methods can damage the ears, which is why ear saline solution is a better alternative.

Cotton swabs, for example, are commonly used for ear cleaning. But experts suggest that you should stop using them. Your sinuses and ears connect inside your head. When the sinuses are congested or stuffed, they affect the pressure in your ears. Treating the congestion is better than trying to unclog your ears using cotton swabs.

Your ears are self-cleaning and will, in most cases, remove excess wax. However, wax can build up and cause damage to the eardrum and ear canal. When this happens, your hearing will be affected. You may experience earaches, for example, and sometimes hear ringing in the ears.

A good approach to cleaning your ears and removing the excess wax is to use ear saline solutions.

The Process of Using Ear Saline Solution at Home

A saline ear solution is used to perform a procedure known as ear irrigation. The salinity in the water is effective in breaking up and earwax and removing it with ease. You can buy an irrigation kit, which is a combination of water and saline solution, or make a saline solution at home. Start the procedure by warming up the water to about your body temperature. Applying cold water will create effects like dizziness, while using water that's too hot will burn your ears.

Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in half a cup of warm water. Soak a ball of cotton in the water and tilt your head to one side. Using the saturated cotton ball, drip the saline solution into your ear. Allow the water to sit for a few minutes to dissolve the wax. Tilt your head in the opposite direction to drain out the water. Repeat the process for the other ear. Alternatively, you can use a syringe to squirt the saline water into the ear canal.

Avoid using the ear saline solutions at home in the above way if you have:

  • A tube in the eardrum
  • A weakened immune system
  • Eczema near the ear
  • Diabetes
  • Holes in the eardrum

Ear Irrigation at the Doctor’s Office

Having your doctor perform ear irrigation is a better approach to cleaning your ears. The doctor will assess the inside of your ear to check that the symptoms are because of excess wax buildup and not a severe condition.

For diagnosis of excess earwax, the doctor will insert an otoscope into your ear's opening. The tool shines light into the ear canal and magnifies the image. If the diagnosis is wax buildup, an ear irrigation procedure may follow in the doctor’s office.

Using a syringe-like tool, they will insert water and a saline mixture into the ear to flush out the wax. The feeling is a little uncomfortable as the water gets into your ear.

Risks of Ear Irrigation

Don't subject yourself to ear irrigation, whether at home or the doctor's office, if you have an infection in the ear canal. The procedure is relatively safe but could expose you to problems like:

  • Perforated eardrum. Ear irrigation will sometimes press against the wax, making it more compacted. This will make it harder to get rid of the wax while putting pressure on the eardrum. The increased pressure can perforate the eardrum or cause a rupture.
  • Ear infection. One of the common infections of the ears is otitis externa. The inflammation could be caused by an infection and can be painful. Otitis media is another potential complication affecting the middle ear. It also results from ear infections, which are common consequences of ear irrigations.
  • Vertigo. This is a temporary condition that gives you the sensation that the room is spinning around you.
  • Deafness. It can be permanent or temporary.

Alternatives to Ear Saline Solution

Instead of ear irrigation, which puts your ears at risk of certain complications, here are a few alternatives to consider.

  • Natural oils. Use olive oil, mineral oil, or baby oil as an alternative remedy for medical ear irrigation. A few drops of oil in the affected ear will soften and remove the wax. Oils are non-irritating to your ears.
  • Hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, and rubbing alcohol mixture. This mixture is effective in softening earwax and is safe and effective. But you may find it irritating if your eardrum has some problems.
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Family Physician: “Temperature of Saline Solution for Ear Irrigation.”

Annals of Emergency Medicine: “Warmed versus room temperature saline solution for ear irrigation: a randomized clinical trial.”

British Journal of General Practice: “The effectiveness of topical preparations for the treatment of earwax: a systematic review.”

ENT Health: “Conductive Hearing Loss.”

Harvard Health Blog: “3 reasons to leave earwax alone.”

Harvard Medical School: “Got an ear full? Here’s some advice for ear wax removal.”

JOURNAL OF THE WEST AFRICAN COLLEGE OF SURGEONS: “KNOWLEDGE OF CERUMEN AND EFFECT OF EAR SELF-CLEANING AMONG HEALTH WORKERS IN A TERTIARY HOSPITAL.”

NDTV FOOD: “How to Clean Your Ears: 5 Easy Home remedies.”

Schumann, J., Toscano, M., Pfleghaar, N. Ear Irrigation, StatPearls Publishing, 2021

Unitek College: “A Step-by-Step Guide to Ear Irrigation.”

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