II. Mechanism

  1. Apocrine/Sebaceous Gland secretions produce cerumen
    1. Located in skin lining outer half of canal
    2. Cerumen acidifies canal with Lysozymes
      1. Prevents Bacterial and fungal growth
    3. Cerumen is lipid rich and therefore hydrophobic
      1. Prevents skin penetration and maceration
  2. Cerumen is spontaneously cleared from the canal by jaw motion and other mechanisms
  3. Impaction occurs from attempts to remove cerumen
  4. Exacerbated by swimming and showering
    1. Water moistens and expands cerumen

III. Symptoms

  1. Otalgia
    1. Cerumen Impaction is painless, unless:
      1. Cerumen touches Tympanic Membrane
      2. Cerumen injures external canal
  2. Hearing Loss
    1. Requires completely obscured canal
    2. Even a tiny hole of patency will maintain hearing
  3. Vertigo or disequilibrium
    1. Associated with cerumen touching Tympanic Membrane
  4. Other symptoms
    1. Ear fullness Sensation
    2. Ear Pruritus
    3. Tinnitus

IV. Indications: Removal of cerumen

  1. Hearing Loss
  2. Otalgia
  3. Cerumen obscures exam
    1. Diagnosis requires 75% of Tympanic Membrane viewed
    2. Ear evaluation requires cerumen removal in 33% cases
    3. Children under age 1 year more often require removal
    4. Cerumen removal required for auditory or vestibular testing
    5. Cerumen does not affect Tympanic Temperature reading

V. Management

  1. Cerumen Softening Agents
    1. See Cerumen Softening Agents
    2. Debrox drops
    3. Acetic acid 1.5% with water
    4. Hydrogen Peroxide or Benzalkonium chloride
  2. Office cerumen removal
    1. Manual Cerumen Removal
    2. Warm Water Ear Lavage
    3. Cerumen removal by Ear Canal Suction
    4. Cerumen softening before irrigation not effective
      1. Agents that have shown no benefit compared with saline
        1. Triethanolamine polypeptide (Cerumenex) drops
        2. DocusateSodium 1 ml
        3. Carbamide Peroxide
      2. References
        1. Whatley (2003) Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 157:1177 [PubMed]
        2. Roland (2004) Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 130 [PubMed]

VI. Prevention

  1. See Cerumen Softening Agents for home preventive protocol for recurrent impaction
  2. Do not use cotton swabs in the ear canal
    1. Cotton swabs only further impact cerumen that is present
  3. Avoid ear candling (ineffective and risk of adverse effects)

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Related Studies

Ontology: Impacted cerumen (C0021092)

Concepts Finding (T033)
ICD9 380.4
ICD10 H61.2
SnomedCT 155214004, 194230008, 18070006
LNC LA15481-7
Italian Tappo di cerume
Dutch cerumenprop, oorsmeerprop, cerumen; impactie, impactie; cerumen, Cerumenprop, cerumen samengeperst
French Cérumen impacté, Cérumen enclavé, Inclusion de cérumen
Portuguese Rolhão de cerúmen, Retenção de cerume
Spanish Cera impactada, Cerumen impactado, cerumen impactado (trastorno), cerumen impactado, Impactación de cerumen
Japanese 耳垢栓塞, ジコウセンソク
English cerumen impaction, impacted earwax, cerumen impaction (diagnosis), cerumen impactions, impacted wax, impacted cerumen, cerumen impacted, impact cerumen, Cerumen impaction, Impacted cerumen (wax in ear), Impacted wax (disorder), Impacted wax, Impacted cerumen (disorder), cerumen; impaction, impaction; cerumen, Impacted cerumen
German Zeruminalpfropf, Ohrpfropf
Czech Mazová zátka, Cerumen obturans, Zaklíněné cerumen
Korean 귀지떡
Hungarian Impactált cerumen, cerumen impactio, Impactált fülzsír