Cerumen Impaction

Definition

Cerumen is the soft yellow wax secreted by glands in your ear canal. It is more commonly known as earwax. Cerumen impaction occurs when earwax becomes wedged in and blocks the ear canal.

The Ear Canal
si55550929 96472 1 with ear wax
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

Cerumen impaction is usually caused by:

  • An inability of the ear to naturally clear itself of cerumen
  • Putting objects into your ears that push the cerumen deeper into the ear canal

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your risk of getting cerumen impactation include:

  • Trying to remove cerumen with a cotton-tipped swab.
  • A twisted, narrow, or complicated ear canal
  • Ears that overproduce cerumen
  • Age: affects the elderly and causes hearing loss
  • Dense hair growth in ear canal
  • Hearing aid use
  • Intellectual disability

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • Itchy ear
  • Pain in the ear
  • Ringing in the ear
  • Hearing loss

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. An ear exam will be done to look for impacted cerumen.

Treatment

Treatment involves removal of the earwax from the ear canal. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Cerumen can be removed by:

  • Your doctor using one of several instruments, including:
    • Curette—This is a surgical instrument shaped like a scoop.
    • Suction—When the cerumen is loosened, the doctor will vacuum the earwax.
  • Flushing—Your doctor may rinse the impacted cerumen using flushing equipment.
  • Ceruminolytic agents—Your doctor may prescribe or recommend using a ceruminolytic agent. This is a liquid-like solution that is used to drop into the ear and soften the earwax to help ease removal.

Earwax moves out of your ear naturally. Earwax should not be removed by you. In fact, continuously trying to clean your ear of cerumen by using a cotton swab, for example, can damage your ear. By trying to remove earwax, you can:

  • Damage your eardrum—the membrane that vibrates and transmits sound to the middle ear
  • Make yourself more prone to swimmer’s ear —an infection or inflammation of the skin that lines the ear canal
  • Injure the ear canal
  • Cause the cerumen to become more impacted and more difficult to remove

If you are diagnosed with cerumen impaction, follow your doctor's instructions .

Prevention

To help reduce your chances of getting cerumen impaction, take the following steps:

  • Do not clean your ears with anything more than a soapy washcloth on the outer rim of your ear.
  • Do not use cotton-tipped swabs to clean anywhere inside your ears.
  • Use medications as advised by your doctor to help prevent the build up of earwax.
  • If you are concerned about earwax, see your doctor. Do not attempt to remove the earwax by yourself.
  • Schedule regular visits to remove earwax build up as advised by your doctor.

Revisions

All EBSCO Publishing proprietary, consumer health and medical information found on this site is accredited by URAC. URAC's Health Web Site Accreditation Program requires compliance with 53 rigorous standards of quality and accountability, verified by independent audits. To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at HLEditorialTeam@ebscohost.com.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Editorial Policy | Privacy Policy | Terms and Conditions | Support
Copyright © 2008 EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.

When recovering from surgery or an injury, prepare your home by placing often-used objects within easy reach, and keep a hard-backed chair in every room so you can sit while doing daily tasks.