How to Treat Ear Wax Problems

By Dr. Ben Kim

A kind nun from Ireland recently consulted with me about an ear problem. Here's what she wrote:

"It seems to be a problem with wax because when I lie down at night they block and when I get up they un-block, but sometimes I can't hear anything in my right ear for about 3 days. I have been putting in warm olive oil at night for about 4 days now. Do you have any suggestions for me?"

Although all healthy ears produce some wax, a small percentage of the population suffers from build-up that can cause significant discomfort and sometimes temporary deafness. In my practice, I place several drops of warm water into the affected ear, block it with a cotton ball, and have the guest rest like this for 30 minutes. I then flush the ear several times with a large, dull-headed syringe, with a kidney-shaped basin resting under the ear to catch the water and wax. Sometimes, I will flush each ear up to 15 times. If this doesn't remove all of the wax, I will repeat the same procedure the next day after the guest has spent a few hours with olive oil in her ears, covered with cotton balls.

Most general practitioners have the appropriate tools to perform this simple procedure. An important precaution is to insert the tip of the syringe no more than half an inch into the external ear canal to ensure that it isn't too close to the ear drum. For obvious reasons, I cannot recommend that people perform this procedure on their own.

After unplugging wax from the ear, it is important to address what caused the build-up in the first place. One of the most common causes is a deficiency in omega 3 fatty acids. Some excellent sources of omega 3 fatty acids include:

  • walnuts
  • purslane
  • ground flax seeds
  • cod liver oil
  • cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, and herring

If you choose to use cod liver oil, be sure that your source has been tested for mercury and other common toxins. My wife and I like and use Carlson's Cod liver oil and take 2 teaspoons per day. (

If you choose to eat cold-water fish, please try to ensure that it comes from the ocean and not a fish farm. You can ask your grocer or fish monger where his fish is from.

Sometimes, the use of pasteurized dairy products like milk, ice cream, cheese, sour cream, and creme fraiche can create irritation in the ear, which can contribute to a build-up of wax. Incidentally, the use of pasteurized dairy products is one of the most common causes of ear infections in children. If you know a child who suffers from intermitent ear infections, please find a gentle way to let his parents know of this strong link between pasteurized dairy and ear infections.

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