Normally, the human ear is self cleaning. Wax is naturally moist and oily, but over time ear wax build-up can harden and become stuck in the ear. Glycerin is a clear liquid found in many lotions and soaps, as well as in foods and medicines. Glycerin lubricates, softens, and moisturizes whatever it comes into contact with. Accordingly, glycerin is often used to remove stubborn ear wax.
Removing Ear Wax
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, most cases of ear wax blockage respond well to home treatments used to soften wax. Glycerin is considered a safe home treatment for softening ear wax. Only three to four drops are needed at a time. When putting drops into your ear, according to Dr. Timothy C. Hain, let the drops stay in your ear for two to three minutes, then lie down on a towel to let any excess glycerin drain out. Dr. Hain also warns patients that this should not be performed if you have, or there's the potential that you have, an eardrum perforation.
There are several commercial brands of ear wax drops. Some claim that they dissolve ear wax, others state that they are for softening. Most of these brands contain glycerin, as well as peroxide, water and oil. Commercial drops are no more effective at removing ear wax than plain glycerin. Glycerin can be found at most pharmacies and purchased in a bottle with a dropper.
Softening Ear Wax
The American Academy of Otolaryngology also recommends using glycerin drops prior to ear syringing or flushing. Ear syringing is more effective if you soften the ear wax and lubricate your ear 15 to 30 minutes prior to syringing. Ear syringing—commonly used to remove ear wax—involves using a bulb syringe to squirt warm water in the ear and flush out ear wax.
Glycerin can also be used to help prevent ear wax build up. As a preventative measure, use 2 to 3 drops in each ear once a week. Keep in mind that ear wax is produced to help prevent ear infections. Your goal shouldn’t be to eliminate wax, but just to avoid a blockage. If you suspect a blockage—symptoms include—fullness in the ear, earache, diminished hearing and itching in the ear—you may want to see a doctor first. Ear infections can present these same symptoms, and an ear infection needs medical treatment.