Cerumen (wax) impaction occurs when the external ear canal becomes blocked by an excessive amount of normally occurring wax. Cerumen is made by tiny glands in the outer aspect of the ear canal. Wax is very beneficial and its purpose includes protecting the outer ear from moisture and other things which might enter the canal. In most people, the ear is self cleaning and the wax will come out periodically on its own. In others, cerumen may accumulate faster than it extrudes itself, leading to blockage and hearing loss or a feeling of fullness or pressure.

The most common cause of cerumen impaction is placing some object in the ear to try to remove the wax (Q-tip, bobby pin, or the top of a pen). In addition, water may sometimes get around the impacted cerumen and the warm and dark environment may lead to a bacterial of fungal infection.

The Physicians at Capitol Ear, Nose, & Throat recommend that the first time you experience cerumen impaction, you should be evaluated by a physician to make sure there is not another more serious reason for you to have decrease hearing or fullness in the outer ear. If you have a history of cerumen impaction and know that you do not have a hole in your eardrum, you may use some of the commercially available products from the Pharmacy such as Murine Ear Drops Rx or Debrox Rx. The drops should remain in the ear for 10-15 minutes. We also recommend using ½ part white vinegar (acetic acid) and ½ part water that has been boiled and allowed to cool to room temperature as the solution to “flush” out the ear. As a preventive, some patients do these measures on a routine basis every 1-2 months and that works very well for them. Placing a few drops of mineral oil or glycerin periodically every month or so may also soften the wax so that it can come out on its own.

Remember nothing smaller than you elbow or a football should be placed in your external ear canal!

Article posted by Stanley A. Wilkins, Jr., MD