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
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Cerumen impaction is usually caused by: An inability of the ear to naturally clear itself of cerumenPutting objects into your ears that push the cerumen deeper into the ear canal
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 canalEars that overproduce cerumenAge: affects the elderly and causes hearing lossDense hair growth in ear canalHearing aid useIntellectual disability
Symptoms may include: Itchy earPain in the earRinging in the earHearing loss
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 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
—an infection or inflammation of the skin that lines the ear canal
Injure the ear canalCause the cerumen to become more impacted and more difficult to remove
If you are diagnosed with cerumen impaction, follow your doctor's
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.
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Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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