Ceruminosis (Impacted Ear Wax)

Ear Wax is our body’s natural way to protect the ear canal; some people make too much.ย  When too much accumulates, it usually interferes with hearing, but sometimes causes pain.ย  The pain is usually less than infections like Otitis Media or Otitis Externa, and usually begins more gradually.ย  Impacted wax can certainly cause hearing loss, & rarely a mild sensation of vertigo.ย  We give the condition a Latin name, โ€œCeruminosis.โ€

We make the diagnosis by examining the ear with an otoscope and seeing the canal full of wax.  Then we pull on the pinna & push on the tragus (see (see Diagram — Anatomy of the Ear) — if that doesn’t hurt, there’s no Otitis Externa.  To rule out Otitis Media we need to examine the ear drum, so we wash out the wax.  If symptoms disappear, & the ear drum looks normal, problem solved.

Then we counsel patients to never use Q-tips, etc., inside the ear.  Those swabs were invented to clean the outside, not the ear canal.  How could a piece of cotton even work inside; it only pushes the wax in deeper?!?!  It’s OK to use over-the-counter drops to dissolve wax, but not bobby pins etc. (might rupture the ear drum), and certainly not devices with flames (known to cause serious burns).

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