100686 Health Library | Health and Wellness | Wellmont Health System
  • Cerumen Impaction

    (Earwax; Ear Impaction; Ear Blockage)

    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.
    Earwax has many useful purposes. One of the main uses is that it helps fight bacterial ear infections and protects the inside of your ear.
    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 ear infections
    • Make yourself more prone to swimmer’s ear —an infection of the skin that lines the ear canal
    • Injure the ear canal
    • Cause the cerumen to become more impacted and more difficult to remove
    The Ear Canal
    si55550929 96472 1 with ear wax
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
    It is important to prevent cerumen impaction before it happens. It has been found to cause hearing loss .
    This condition can be treated. Contact your doctor if you think you may have cerumen impaction.

    Causes

    Cerumen impaction is usually caused by inability of the ear to naturally clear itself.
    Factors that contribute to cerumen impaction include:
    • Trying to remove cerumen with a cotton-tipped swab.
    • Putting objects into your ears that may push the cerumen deeper into the ear canal

    Risk Factors

    Factors that increase your risk of getting cerumen impactation include:
    • Individuals who obsessively try to clean their ears and try to remove the wax
    • A twisted, narrow, or complicated ear canal
    • Ears that overproduce cerumen
    • Age: affects the elderly and causes hearing loss
    • Intellectual disability

    Symptoms

    If you experience any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to cerumen impaction. These symptoms may be caused by other, less or more serious health conditions.
    Symptoms 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. When you go to your doctor, he or she will look into your ear with a special light called an otoscope. Your doctor will look for impacted earwax.

    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.
    Do not use ear candles. This involves placing a fabric tube soaked in wax into the ear. The candle is then lit. Using ear candles can cause serious injuries, including burns , ruptured eardrums , and blockage of the ear canal.
    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.
    • If you are concerned about earwax, see your doctor. Do not attempt to remove the earwax by yourself.

    RESOURCES

    American Academy of Audiology http://www.audiology.org

    American Speech–Language–Hearing Association http://www.asha.org

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

    Canadian Society of Otolaryngology http://www.csohns.com

    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

    References

    Cerumen impaction. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 30, 2012. Accessed February 1, 2013.

    Jabor MA, Amedee RG. Cerumen impaction. J La State Med Soc. 1997;149:358-362.

    Mahoney DF. Cerumen impaction. Prevalence and detection in nursing homes. J Gerontol Nurs. 1993;19:23-30.

    Olusanya BO. Hearing impairment in children with impacted cerumen. Ann Trop Paediatr. 2003;23:121-128.

    Pray WS, Pray JJ. Earwax: Should it be removed? US Pharmacist. 2005;30(5).

    2/26/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Ear candles: risk of serious injuries. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/SafetyInformation/SafetyAlertsforHumanMedicalProducts/ucm201108.htm . Published February 20, 2010. Accessed February 26, 2010.

    Revision Information

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