Cerumen Impaction

What is cerumen impaction?

Cerumen impaction is the blockage of the outer ear canal by tightly packed cerumen (earwax).


What causes cerumen impaction?

Anything that affects the normal outward flow of cerumen may cause impaction. The following factors may make it more likely for earwax to become impacted:

  • Advanced age

  • Conditions that produce too much cerumen, such as keratosis and other skin diseases

  • Narrow or abnormally shaped ear canals

  • Use of a hearing aid

  • Incorrect use of cotton swabs, or using needles, hair pins, or other objects to clean the ears

What are the signs and symptoms of cerumen impaction?

  • Trouble hearing

  • Dizziness

  • Ear fullness or a feeling that something is plugging up your ear

  • Itchiness or pain in the ears

  • Ringing in the ears

How is cerumen impaction diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask about your medical history. This includes any ear problems or procedures you may have had. Your caregiver will carefully check your ears using a scope with a light. Your caregiver may look for other problems, such as bleeding, infection, or injury. Your eardrums will be checked for tears or holes. Your caregiver may also test your hearing.

How is cerumen impaction treated?

The goal of treatment is to remove the hardened wax. The type of treatment to be used may depend on your age, symptoms, or risk factors. Ask your caregiver which of the following treatments may be best for you:

  • Ear drops: Ear drops may be used to clear or soften the impacted earwax. This may be used alone or in combination with a procedure to take out the earwax.

  • Procedures: When the impaction can be clearly seen, removal may be done using any of the following:

    • Irrigation: Warm water from a syringe is used to wash the wax out of the ear canal. Irrigation may not be used on people with an eardrum tear, infection, or who have had ear surgery.

    • Suction: A small plastic tube that is connected to a machine is used to suck the impacted wax out of your ear.

    • Instruments: Your caregiver may use a curette (scoop-like instrument) or forceps to remove the impacted wax.

What are the risks of having a cerumen impaction?

  • Procedures to remove the wax may cause bleeding and infection. The ear canal may be scraped and scratched or the eardrum may be injured, which may cause loss of hearing.

  • Untreated impacted cerumen may cause your symptoms to become worse. If it is not removed, impacted cerumen may cause an infection, irritation, loss of hearing, or further ear problems.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You have trouble hearing or hear ringing noises.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You feel dizzy.

  • You have discharge or blood coming out of your ear.

  • Your ear pain does not go away or gets worse.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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