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Cerumen Impaction

(Earwax; Earwax impaction; Ear Impaction; Ear Blockage)

How to Say It: suh-ROO-men im-PAK-shon

Definition

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
si55550929_96472_1_with ear wax

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Causes

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

Risk Factors

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

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

Diagnosis

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.

Treatment

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

Prevention

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
RESOURCES:

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

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

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Society of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
http://www.entcanada.org

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

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