BUFFALO, N.Y. — Removing ear wax may sound humorous,
unless you need it done. Then it can be a personal emergency that
can hinder hearing and cause pain. The need is more prevalent among
A company called Nupur Technologies LLC in the University at
Buffalo business incubator is building and selling an elegant
device that doctors, nurses, audiologists and others can use to
dislodge the wax, called cerumen. The machine uses the lavage
technique which involves pumping warm water into the ear at
“You can scrape it out, or use suction, but historically
lavage has been the preferred technique,” said Joseph L.
Priest, the company’s CEO. “It’s not painful or
The device, called the Earigator, is an updated version of a
machine invented and marketed by the late Irwin Ginsberg, MD,
founder of the Buffalo Otolaryngology Group and a clinical
professor at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
at UB. The machine was reengineered by Rohan Bansal, PhD, a
mechanical engineer and chief technology officer at Nupur, who
sourced parts in Western New York, did the software programming and
made the circuit boards.
“From soup to nuts, he totally redesigned it,”
Priest said. “We got a lot of cost out of it. We cut the cost
by about two-thirds.”
The device, which sells with a custom designed stainless steel
rolling cart for about $2,100, has several features to make it
effective and safe to use.
Warm, pressure-controlled water
First, the water is heated to body temperature before the
machine will operate. Blasting cold water into someone’s ear
can cause serious vertigo, Priest said, and water that is too hot
Next, the pressure at which the water comes out is variable up
to 12 pounds per square inch (psi). Experiments showed that the ear
drum can withstand 24 psi, and the inventor cut that in half for
safety while maintaining effectiveness.
When dormant for a few minutes, the Earigator powers down to
save energy while keeping the water warm. This keeps it available
for frequent use in busy offices, Priest said.
The machine is now sold to ear doctors, emergency clinics and
hearing aid stores, among others, and Priest hopes to find a
welcome market among general practice doctors and
Being accepted into the START-UP NY program has made it possible
for the young company to grow, Priest said.
“Coming into a place like this UB incubator allowed us to
concentrate on our product and on selling,” he said. “I
started a previous business, AirSep, and you can’t beat the
simplification of coming into a place like this. We pay one fee a
month and we get everything we need.”
In addition, the proximity to the university has helped in
finding talent. “Our first employee was a UB mechanical
engineering graduate. We’re negotiating to do a development
with a large company, and we will likely be getting involved with
more UB graduates.”
Most of the parts of the device are made in Western New York,
said Brij M. Bansal, vice president of operations. The machines are
built and shipped from the business incubator.
“We have a contract manufacturer who makes the kettle, we
have a company in Lockport that makes the circuit boards. A local
sheet metal company makes some of the insides, and plastic comes
from a local supplier,” he said.
The machine hit the market in February, and about 200 have been
sold in the U.S. and abroad, including Great Britain, Morocco,
Saudi Arabia, South Africa, India, China — and soon
Stephen R. Sobie, MD, an otolaryngologist, has two of the
machines in his Buffalo Medical Group office. “We use them
all the time, every day. Half the people who come into our office
need to have their ears cleaned,” he said.
Ear wax buildup is not uncommon, and it tends to be more
prevalent in older people, possibly due to drying skin, Sobie said.
Cerumen is formed by cerumen glands in the ear canal and is usually
shed along with the skin cells which normally migrate outwards.
Occasionally the system doesn't work and the cerumen builds
“Some people have to have it removed every few
months,” Sobie said.
Doctors commonly use a big metal syringe to dislodge cerumen.
“Most practices still use them,” Sobie said. “But
using a syringe is not pressure or temperature controlled. And most
likely not as effective.”
“I’m surprised every ENT practice in the country
doesn’t have one,” he said. “And it could make
sense for general practitioners and other practices. I think it
could be used in a more widespread manner.”