International Health News

Ear syringing - Proceed with caution

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND. Syringing with lukewarm water is a time-honoured method of removing impacted wax from the ear canal. Impacted wax is particularly common among children and the elderly. Syringing is considered a routine procedure and is often delegated to nurses to perform. A report recently released by the New Zealand Accident Compensation Corporation suggests that syringing may be more dangerous then generally believed. According to the report 25 per cent of all claims for "medical misadventures" received over a 17- month period involved ear syringing. Perforation of the ear drum was by far the most common injury resulting in significant disability (38 out of 47 cases). The report emphasizes that syringing should only take place after a thorough examination of the ear and the taking of a medical history with special emphasis on ear problems. Syringing is contraindicated in patients with a history of middle ear infections, ear surgery or radiation in the ear area. It is also not advisable in patients suffering from severe otitis externa (swimmer's ear), having very narrow ear canals or being under 12 years of age. The report also suggests that syringing is not a good idea if patients exhibit an aversion to it or have suffered previous injury from it. Syringing should be carried out only by properly trained practitioners, the equipment should be kept thoroughly clean, and the temperature of the water used should be as close to 38 degrees C as possible.
Blake, P., et al. When not to syringe an ear. New Zealand Medical Journal, Vol. 111, November 13, 1998, pp. 422-24

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