May also be called: Ear Impaction; Ear Blockage; Earwax Blockage; Impacted Earwax; Cerumen Inspissatum
Impacted cerumen (se-ROO-men) is when earwax (cerumen) builds up in the ear and blocks the ear canal; it can cause temporary hearing loss and ear pain.
Earwax is produced by glands in the ear canal, which leads from the outer ear to the eardrum. Earwax helps protect the ear by trapping dust and other foreign particles that could damage the ear. Normally, earwax moves toward the opening of the ear and falls out or is washed away, but some people's ears produce too much wax. The extra wax can build up and harden in the ear canal and become difficult to remove. Earwax also can become impacted when, during ear cleaning, the wax is accidentally pushed deeper into the ear canal.
Impacted cerumen can cause earaches, temporary hearing loss, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), coughing, or a feeling that the ear is full or plugged. It also can increase the risk of an outer ear infection. Impacted cerumen should be removed by a doctor to help avoid damaging the ear. Treatment options include removing the earwax with instruments or by flushing the ear canal with special liquids.
Impacted cerumen may improve on its own, but treatment by a doctor is generally safe and effective. Hearing usually returns completely after the impacted earwax is removed. Trying to remove impacted cerumen at home with a cotton swab or by ear candling is not recommended.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.
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