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Ear wax


Alternative Names:

Ear impaction; Cerumen impaction; Ear blockage

Causes:

Ear wax protects the ear by:

  • Trapping and preventing dust, bacteria, and other germs and small objects from entering and damaging the ear
  • Protecting the delicate skin of the ear canal from getting irritated when water is in the canal

In some people, the glands produce more wax than can be easily removed from the ear. This extra wax may harden in the ear canal and block the ear. When you try to clean the ear, you may instead push wax deeper and block the ear canal.

Symptoms:
  • Earache
  • Fullness in the ear or a sensation that the ear is plugged
  • Noises in the ear (tinnitus)
  • Partial hearing loss, may get worse
Outlook (Prognosis):

The ear may become blocked with wax again in the future. Hearing loss is often temporary. In most cases, hearing returns completely after the blockage is removed.

Rarely, trying to remove ear wax may cause an infection in the ear canal or damage to the eardrum.

When to Contact a Medical Professional:

See your health care provider if your ears are blocked with wax and you are unable to remove the wax.

Also call if you have an ear wax blockage and you develop new symptoms, such as:

References:

Armstrong C. Diagnosis and management cerumen impaction. Am Fam Physician. 2009;80:1011-1013.

House JC, Lee DJ. Topical therapies of external ear disorders. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2010:chap 138.

O'Handley JG, Tobin EJ, Shah AR. Otorhinolaryngology. In: Rakel RE, ed. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 19.

Riviello RJ. Otolaryngologic procedures. In: Roberts JR, Hedges JR, eds. Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 63.


Review Date: 8/4/2014
Reviewed By: Ashutosh Kacker, MD, BS, Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Attending Otolaryngologist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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