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For further information, see CMDT Part 8-03: Diseases of the Ear Canal

Key Features

  • Cerumen is a protective secretion produced by the outer portion of the ear canal

  • In most individuals, the ear canal is self-cleansing

  • Recommended hygiene consists of cleaning the external opening with a washcloth over the index finger without entering the canal itself

  • In most cases, cerumen impaction is self-induced through ill-advised attempts at cleaning the ear

Clinical Findings

  • Fullness in ear

  • Conductive hearing loss when accumulation blocks the canal


  • Made by otoscopic inspection


  • May be relieved with detergent ear drops (eg, 3% hydrogen peroxide; 6.5% carbamide peroxide), mechanical removal, suction, or irrigation

  • Irrigation

    • Should be performed with water at body temperature to avoid a vestibular caloric response

    • Should be performed only when the tympanic membrane is known to be intact

    • The stream should be directed at the posterior ear canal wall adjacent to the cerumen plug

  • Use of jet irrigators (designed for cleaning teeth [eg, WaterPik]) should be avoided because they may result in tympanic membrane perforations

  • After irrigation, the ear canal should be thoroughly dried (eg, by instilling isopropyl alcohol or using a hair blow-dryer on low-power setting) to reduce the likelihood of inducing external otitis

  • Specialty referral for cleaning under microscopic guidance is indicated when the

    • Impaction is recurrent

    • Impaction has not responded to routine measures

    • Patient has a history of chronic otitis media or tympanic membrane perforation

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