Millions of people in England are not able to access earwax removal services via the NHS as a new report has revealed a major decline in the availability of the services.
According to research by the RNID, formerly known as the Royal Institute for Deaf People, people are having to wait and see if they get a “postcode lottery” removing a build up of earwax, leaving some with hearing loss and feeling socially isolated.
Others are having to go to private clinics and pay to have their earwax removed regularly. The RNID said its report “exposes a horrifying reality for thousands of people being let down” by the withdrawal of the service.
The charity estimated 2.3 million people in the UK need professional earwax removal every year, particularly older people, hearing aid users and people with learning disabilities.
Its report found that two-thirds (66%) of people with earwax build up were told the service was no longer available on the NHS. More than a fifth (26%) said they could not afford private removal services.
Watch: Doctor removes 15 years' worth of gunk from woman's clogged ear
Victoria Boelman, director of insight and policy at the charity, said: "It’s absolutely wrong that people in England who need earwax removal to be able to hear and take part in everyday life are being left to face painful and debilitating symptoms, forced to fork out for private treatment, or risk dangerous self-removal methods."
The RNID is calling on the government to commission an urgent review to ensure patients with a medical need for earwax removal have access to the service. It has also called on health commissioners to examine different ways of delivering the service through primary and community care.
Amanda Philpott, CEO and co-founder of eargym, tells Yahoo UK: "What is most worrying about RNID’s report, is the disproportionate impact that the withdrawal of these services is likely to have on hearing aid users. Those using hearing devices are far more prone to ear wax build up, and already likely to have experienced some of the negative long term effects of hearing loss. Narrowing access to treatment could therefore have a huge impact on their long-term health.
"We know the NHS and social care services are facing enormous pressures on resources, but this makes it all the more vital that we invest in cost-effective, preventative measures, like hearing care. By doing this, we can radically reduce future costs by driving down the risks of dementia and wider health and care complications associated with hearing loss."
What is earwax?
Ears produce a waxy, sometimes sticky substance called earwax, which keeps your ears clean and free of infections. It usually passes through or falls out of the ear on its own without causing any harm.
However, sometimes the glands in the ear that produce earwax get overactive and may produce more wax than can be easily passed out of the ear. When this happens, a build up of earwax can occur.
How earwax build up affects you
Sometimes, earwax buildup can harden within the ear canal and block the ears, causing hearing loss or discomfort.
Other symptoms of earwax build up include an earache, or feeling like your ears are blocked, a ringing or buzzing in your ears (tinnitus), and vertigo (feeling dizzy or sick).
The RNID warned that, left untreated, hearing loss can lead to “social isolation and double the likelihood of mental health problems”.
It added that earwax build up can “delay or prevent essential hearing care, such as getting a hearing test or being fitted for a new hearing aid”.
Philpott says: "Ear wax build up can be debilitating. When the wax has impacted and is blocking the opening of the ear canal, it can cause earaches, tinnitus, dizziness and hearing loss. It can have a big impact on people.
"Some research has suggested that hearing loss caused by a blockage in the ear canal, such as wax, can result in permanent hearing damage. This has huge implications."
"One critical factor when it comes to hearing loss - and one that is widely misunderstood - is the impact on mental health and cognitive function. Hearing loss can cause anxiety and stress, especially if accessing treatment is difficult.
"Likewise, reduced hearing limits our ability to communicate and leads to frustration, giving rise to social isolation. There is also a strong link between hearing loss and dementia. That’s why rapid and ready access to hearing care is critical for keeping people well into their older age."
How is earwax build up treated?
Earwax build up can be treated with medical-grade olive or almond oil, according to the NHS. Two to three drops of the oil is administered to the ear three or four times a day, for a total of three to five days.
Over the course of two weeks, lumps of earwax should fall out of your ear, particularly at night when you’re lying down.
A pharmacist can also help by giving advice and suggesting treatments, such as medicines to dissolve the earwax.
However, if the symptoms don’t clear after five days or your ear is badly blocked and you cannot hear anything, you may require professional earwax removal.
This involves flushing the wax out with water, called ear irrigation, or sucking the wax out, called micro suction.
Philpott adds: "If you are suffering with hearing loss as a result of ear wax build up, there are a number of at-home remedies which you can try if advised to do so by a medical professional, including ear drops which soften wax. But always consult with an expert before trying anything yourself at home."
Read more about hearing loss:
How tinnitus can affect your mental health and wellbeing (Yahoo Life UK, 4-min read)
Hearing aid use linked to lower dementia risk, study suggests (PA Media, 3-min read)
Half of under-35s 'left with poor hearing from loud headphones' (The Telegraph, 3-min read)