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OTC ear syringes could reduce GP consultations

By Lilian Anekwe

Encouraging patients to use over the counter bulb syringes to remove wax could save GPs and practice nurses time and the NHS money.

New research shows that rather than managing earwax in primary care, patients should be advised to try bulb syringes commonly available at pharmacies – as these compare favourable with conventional irrigation by a GP or practice nurse.

Of 237 patients attending seven practices in Hampshire with symptomatic occluding earwax had their earwax removed by the administration of ear drops, followed by either ear irrigation by a member of care staff, or given a bulb syringe together with instructions on how to use the device.

The researchers, from a general practice surgery in Hampshire, measured the efficacy of each method using a ‘obstruction score' where 0 represented no earwax and 4 complete occlusion.

48% of the patients given an OTC bulb syringe to use themselves achieved complete or nearly complete wax clearance, compared with 63% in the irrigation group.

The number of patients that required further treatment was lower in the self-management group; 49% compared with 31% in the irrigation group.

Writing in the January issue of the British Journal of General Practice, lead research Dr Richard Coppin, a GP in Overton, Hampshire, wrote that:

'At least half of patients given a bulb and simple instruction did not require further irrigation [and] both methods of treatment appear to have a similar safety profile.'

He continued: 'A policy of offering bulbs as an initial alternative to irrigation would result in a worthwhile reduction in the number of irrigations performed.'

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