Cerumen impaction is a buildup of earwax that blocks the ear canal. Earwax normally cleans and protects the ear canal. When too much builds up, it can affect hearing and cause other problems.
The Ear Canal
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This problem may be caused by:
- The ear not naturally clearing itself—the earwax dries and hardens
- The ear producing too much earwax
- Putting objects into the ears—this pushes earwax deeper into the ear canal
Earwax impaction is more common in males, older adults, and children.
Other things that raise the risk are:
- Intellectual disability
- Use of hearing aids or ear plugs
- A small ear canal
- Skin conditions such as eczema
- Use of cotton-tipped swabs to remove earwax
Symptoms of earwax impaction may be:
- Hearing loss
- Pain, itching, or fullness in the ear
Ringing in the ear—tinnitus
- Ear discharge or odor
- Hearing aids making noise or not working properly
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam may be done. The doctor will do an ear exam to diagnose the condition.
The goal of treatment is to remove earwax from the ear canal. This can be done with:
- A curette—an instrument shaped like a scoop
- Suction—vaccuming the loosened earwax
- Flushing—the impacted earwax is flushed out
- Ear solutions to soften earwax and ease removal
The risk may be lowered by:
- Not putting anything in the ears—including cotton tipped swabs
- Using medicines to prevent the buildup of earwax
- Seeing the doctor to remove earwax buildup, as advised
Cerumen impaction. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/cerumen-impaction-earwax-buildup-and-blockage. Accessed February 18, 2021.
Cerumen impaction. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/cerumen-impaction. Accessed February 18, 2021.
Michaudet C, Malaty J. Cerumen impaction: diagnosis and management. Am Fam Physician. 2018;98(8):525-529.
Last reviewed September 2020 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Shawna Grubb, RN
Last Updated: 2/18/2021