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DIY earwax removal is cheap and may do the job, but it cannot match up to the benefits of a professional session.
Everybody knows what earwax is, but some of us may not know why it’s there.
Well, it turns out the substance is formed from a combination of natural secretions in the ear, mixed up with dead skin cells, dirt and hairs.
It’s also beneficial, acting as a barrier against water, insects and foreign bodies, while also helping to prevent trauma and infection.
Another fact that you might find surprising is that our ears are naturally self-cleaning, and earwax naturally migrates from the inner ear to the outer ear, where it gets dislodged and lost in the environment.
That means that at any one time, someone, somewhere, is actually shedding earwax from their ears. That’s another compelling reason to practice safe distancing!
However, depending on several factors like the shape of your ears, and the composition of your earwax, this self-cleaning mechanism doesn’t always work properly. This leads to earwax buildup, which can cause hearing issues, and even infections.
So it’s just as well that many of us have a habit of cleaning our ears from time to time.
The real question is, should you carry on sticking cotton buds into your ears (until you inadvertently cause a blockage and panic-walk to the nearest 24-hr clinic in the middle of the night because you’re too young to go deaf in one ear (true story, by the way)? Or should you schedule regular earwax removal sessions with the professionals?
How much would doing it yourself cost, versus going to the clinic or a spa? Here is the cost comparison and how much you could save or spend from choosing either route.
What are the different ways of earwax removal?
|Earwax scooper||Once a week||Less than a dollar to around $20 or more|
|Otoscope with ear scoop||Once a week||$25 to $75, depending on brand|
|Ear irrigation or suction at clinic (GP or ENT)||Every three to six months||$50 to $250, depending on clinic|
|Ear-candling at spa||Every two to three months||$25 to $40, depending on spa|
Earwax scooper – $1 to $20 (one-time cost)
Alright, let’s start with the tried and tested method. If you must stick something in your ears to get rid of the gunk, at least use a proper earwax scooper.
This is because the fat, bulbous head of Q-tips actually push earwax deeper into your ears, mushing it against the ear canal and making it harder to dislodge. Repeatedly doing so will only increase your chances of causing a blockage.
In contrast, earwax scoopers are tiny enough to go in to catch and pull out chunks of earwax. They are easy enough to use, but you still run the risk of poking too deep and damaging your inner ear.
Cheap, poor quality scoopers are especially risky – they can be sharp and leave behind scratches which could lead to an infection.
You’d be better served splurging for those fancy Japanese earwax scoopers that come in all manner of wonderful styles – from traditional unidirectional scoops to triple-layered 360-degree heads, in premium materials like natural bamboo, titanium and silicone.
Drop by your nearest Tokyu Hands or Don Don Donki for the widest selection – but be warned, they can cost up to $20!
Otoscope with ear scoop – $25 to $75 (one-time cost)
For a more high-tech method, you might want to try an otoscope with attached ear scoops.
Devices such as the Xiaomi BeBird M9 Pro are designed to let you peek into your ears (in all their horrible glory) through its tiny camera that connects to a mobile app you can view on your phone.
The idea is to let you see exactly where the earwax is, so you know exactly how to work the scoop for maximum effect.
While ostensibly a safer option than going in blind, this method has its inherent risks too, especially if you’re not a trained medical professional and can’t tell what’s what in there.
Such devices may be of limited use should your earwax be badly impacted, or if there are foreign objects present, which is difficult to remove using the attached ear scoop alone.
Ear irrigation or suction at GP or ENT clinic – $50 to $250 per visit
If you’re in need of a thorough earwax cleaning (or if your ear is blocked because of impacted earwax), your best bet would be to go to the doctor’s clinic. You can drop by your neighbourhood GP clinic, or book a consultation with an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist.
An examination of your ears will be carried out to determine the extent of the problem. Then, your doctor will recommend a suitable treatment plan.
Depending on the severity, you may first be sent home with ear drops or olive oil to soften the earwax over a number of days before actual removal can proceed.
The most common procedure used is known as an ear irrigation, where a doctor or nurse will inject warm water into your ear canals using a flexible syringe to flush out earwax. He or she may also use forceps to help in removing the earwax.
The procedure itself is actually quite pleasant and soothing, until you see those years-old earwax dropping into the basin. At that moment, you may feel embarrassment (or pride – hey, no judgement here!)
If irrigation is not appropriate (such as when you have an ear infection, or a hole in your eardrum), your doctor may use micro-suction instead to achieve the same results. This method, however, will be slightly uncomfortable as you will feel a bit of tugging in your ear.
Ear candling at a spa – $25 to $40 per visit
Now this method is not without controversy, so do proceed at your own risk.
Ear candling is said to be a traditional healing practice that soothes and balances the ears, relieving ear pain or discomfort, headaches, sinus problems and helping earwax to be discharged. It is also said to be very relaxing, and some may like it for stress relief and relaxation.
Instead of a regular solid candle, a hollow roll of waxed cloth is used. With you lying on your side, the ear candle is gently inserted into your ear, and then held in place while the other end is lit and allowed to burn down. This is then repeated with your other ear, and a typical session lasts between 30 to 45 mins.
Ear candling is offered at selected holistic spas in Singapore, and may be ordered as a standalone therapy, or included as an add-on in a massage or facial package.
Fans of ear candling swear by the soothing, relaxing properties (there’s a gentle warmth and some soft crackling as the candle burns), while naysayers scoff at any real health benefits. They also point out that any waxy deposits found in the candle after use is simply collected, unmelted candle wax.
In any case, ear candling should be viewed more as a treat, and shouldn’t be the sole method of cleaning your ears, especially if you’re prone to earwax buildup or other issues.
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Cost comparison – Earwax removal: DIY vs Professional services
Let’s compare how much each of these four options will cost over the course of a year.
|Method||Cost over a year|
|Earwax scooper||$1 to $20|
|Otoscope with ear scoop||$25 to $75|
|Ear irrigation or suction at clinic (GP or ENT)||$100 to $500 (assuming one visit per six months)|
|Ear-candling at spa||$100 to $160 (assuming one visit per three months)|
Earwax scoopers and otoscopes are the lowest-cost options, which is not surprising because they are simple household tools that don’t cost very much.
Also, earwax scoopers can last practically forever, unless you misplace them. Good quality otoscopes should last a few years at least without breaking, but you may need to buy replacement scoops periodically.
On the other hand, professional services will cost significantly more, especially if you go for a high-end ENT specialist with a clinic at The Paragon, or a luxury spa in Sentosa.
DIY vs professional services – pros and cons
|DIY (earwax scooper, otoscope)||Professional clinic services||Professional spa services|
|Cost||Low cost, one-time expense||Moderate to expensive, recurring expense||Moderate to expensive, recurring expense|
|Effectiveness||Limited, partial removal only||High effectiveness, thorough cleaning||Results may vary as earwax removal is not the main purpose of ear candling|
|Safety||Moderate injury risk (going too deep, injuring sensitive tissue)||Minimal injury risk||Moderate injury risk (from burns)|
With scoopers or an otoscope, you won’t need to spend very much, and you can clean your ears as often as you like. But don’t overdo it lest you disturb the inner ear and introduce problems.
However, you may not be able to achieve a complete cleaning, as earwax that is particularly hard, dry or deep may be impossible to remove yourself.
There’s also the ever-present risk of injuring yourself by digging too deep or hard, or by using a low-quality scooper with sharp edges.
Meanwhile, a professional cleaning at a doctor’s clinic will provide the deepest clean, and in severe cases, may be the only option for earwax removal.
Spa visits for ear candling can be beneficial for certain earwax-related issues, although do remember they should not be the sole method of cleaning your ears.
The comparative disadvantages of engaging the professionals relates mostly to cost, being several times higher than the DIY methods. You also have to put aside time to go to the clinic or the spa for your session.
The bottom line
DIY earwax removal might be adequate for basic upkeep, especially if you do not experience blockage, hearing issues or other earwax-related problems.
If your ears are well and truly blocked, or you experience frequent problems, you should book a clinic visit for a proper checkup and thorough cleaning. It may also be beneficial to have a proper ear irrigation once in a while to keep your ears in tiptop condition.
As for ear candling, defer to your own experience. If you enjoy the health benefits, or simply like the therapy as part of your self-care, go right ahead and make it part of your routine.
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By Alevin Chan
An ex-Financial Planner with a curiosity about what makes people tick, Alevin’s mission is to help readers understand the psychology of money. He’s also on an ongoing quest to optimise happiness and enjoyment in his life.