Impacted Ear Wax: Symptoms, Signs, Treatment And Prevention

Cerumen impaction, or impacted ear wax, is a common phenomenon. This article offers a brief discussion of the effects, treatment, and prevention of impacted ear wax.

Ear wax, also known as cerumen, is the result of mixing skins cells of the outer ear canal with glandular secretions that protect the ear against infections by cleaning and trapping dirt in the ear canal.The amount of ear wax produced varies by individual.Some individuals produce very little wax; others overproduce ear wax to the point that blockage may occur. Cerumen normally works itself out of the ear; however, there are situations when ear was begins to plug up the outer ear canal.When ear wax blocks the ear canal so that it begins to cause problems, it results in impacted ear wax, or cerumen impaction.

Impacted ear wax is a common phenomenon.Approximately 2 to 6% of the general United States population has this condition.It is most likely caused when an individual cleans the outer ear with a cotton-tipped applicator such as a Q-tip, which ends up pushing the wax down so much that it plugs the outer ear canal.This condition is also prevalent among the population who wear hearing aids.Individuals who have impacted ear wax often complain about symptoms of hearing loss, pain in the ear, a ringing in the ear (called tinnitus), cough, vertigo, or itching of the ear.Cerumen accumulation can occur if there is an overproduction of ear wax in response to infections or loud noises. An individual with an abnormally shaped ear canal may also encounter ear wax build-up.

Normally, ear wax is removed by cleansing the ear.This is accomplished wrapping a wet washcloth around the finger and washing around the outer ear.In the case of cerumen impaction, the ear wax may have to be softened using an oil-based agent, such as baby oil or olive oil.A couple of drops of oil is poured into the ear, left for a few minutes to soften the wax, and cleaned out using a wet washcloth.Over the counter cerumen-removing agents such as Debrox and Murine Ear Drops may also be used in lieu of oil-based agents to loosen the wax.Another low-cost method of removing ear wax involves using a 3% Hydrogen Peroxide solution.Cerumenex may be prescribed by a medical specialist to soften the wax; however, these prescription ear drops may cause irritation to the ear and result in possible allergic reactions.


If cerumen is not successfully removed, it may be necessary to seek the medical attention of a specialist.Several procedures are utilized by specialists.Most likely, the specialist will use outer ear irrigation methods.This procedure will first attempt to soften the ear wax by applying drops to the ear canal, followed by irrigation using a syringe.During the syringing process, a syringe is attached to a catheter and filled with water.The water flushes the ear, removing the ear wax.Antibiotic ear drops may be added during this cycle, or given as drops to the individual following the procedure.

Although irrigation techniques will remove impacted ear wax for a majority of individuals, certain conditions may exist that prevent or discourage the use of this technique.If an individual has had prior ear surgery, issues with the outer ear or perforation of the ear drum, inflammation, or an infection, the individual may be referred to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor.The ENT specialist will most likely use a curette or a vacuum device to remove the impacted cerumen.

The best way to prevent impacted ear wax is to avoid using Q-tips and other foreign objects while cleaning the outer ear.The hearing aid-wearing population should routinely have their ears checked to avoid impacted ear wax.The ear is a delicate instrument; auditory hair cells control the transmission of auditory signals to other areas of the ear. Not only can the foreign objects push the wax further into the ear to plug up the canal, but it can harm these hair cells, perhaps resulting in permanent hearing loss.

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