The University of Southampton
University of Southampton Institutional Repository

Managing earwax in primary care: efficacy of self-treatment using a bulb syringe

Coppin, Richard, Wicke, Dorothy and Little, Paul (2008) Managing earwax in primary care: efficacy of self-treatment using a bulb syringe British Journal of General Practice, 58, (546), pp. 44-49. (doi:10.3399/bjgp08X263811).

Record type: Article


Background: irrigating ears to remove wax is a time-consuming procedure in UK primary care. In many other countries bulb syringes are used for self-clearance of earwax but evidence of their effectiveness is lacking.

Aim: to compare the effectiveness of self-treatment bulb syringes with routine care. Design of study Open, randomised, controlled trial. Setting Seven practices in Hampshire, UK.

Method: participants were 237 patients attending their GP or practice nurse with symptomatic occluding earwax. A further 128 patients did not want to be part of the randomisation but allowed their data to be analysed. Patients randomised to intervention (n = 118) were given ear drops, a bulb syringe, and instructions on its use. Patients in the control group (n = 119) received ear drops, followed by ear irrigation by the GP or practice nurse. Main outcome measures were symptoms (on a 7-point scale), wax clearance, need for further treatment, and the acceptability of treatment.

Results: comparing patients using the bulb syringe with those treated with conventional irrigation, the change in mean symptom score was -0.81 and -1.26 respectively (difference -0.45, 95% confidence interval [CI] = -0.11 to -0.79) and, regarding the proportion requiring no further irrigation, 51 % and 69% respectively. Although irrigation was preferred by more patients, most patients using the bulb syringe would use it again (75% versus 100%) and were satisfied with treatment (71 % versus 99%).

Conclusions: advising patients with ears blocked by wax to try bulb syringing before irrigation is effective and acceptable, and could significantly reduce the use of NHS resources

Full text not available from this repository.

More information

Published date: January 2008
Keywords: irrigation, design, practitioners, primary-care, england, treatment, london, cerumen, patients, adult, ear canal, trial, family practice, controlled-trial, time, surgery, symptoms


Local EPrints ID: 61740
ISSN: 0960-1643
PURE UUID: 0be9f4e5-dadd-4127-914a-c8b351bbcaa0

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 09 Sep 2008
Last modified: 17 Jul 2017 14:21

Export record



Author: Richard Coppin
Author: Dorothy Wicke
Author: Paul Little

University divisions

Download statistics

Downloads from ePrints over the past year. Other digital versions may also be available to download e.g. from the publisher's website.

View more statistics

Atom RSS 1.0 RSS 2.0

Contact ePrints Soton:

ePrints Soton supports OAI 2.0 with a base URL of

This repository has been built using EPrints software, developed at the University of Southampton, but available to everyone to use.

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we will assume that you are happy to receive cookies on the University of Southampton website.