Cerumen Impaction: Diagnosis and Management

Charlie Michaudet, John Malaty
American Family Physician 2018 October 15, 98 (8): 525-529
Cerumen production is a normal and protective process for the ear canal. However, cerumen should be removed when it causes symptoms (e.g., hearing loss, itching, pain, tinnitus) or prevents assessment of the external auditory canal, the tympanic membrane, or audiovestibular system. Cerumen should also be removed when it limits examination in patients who cannot communicate their symptoms, such as those with dementia or developmental delay, nonverbal patients with behavioral changes, and young children with fever, speech delay, or parental concerns. Patients with coagulopathies, hepatic failure, thrombocytopenia, or hemophilia, and those taking antiplatelet or anticoagulant medications, should be counseled about the increased risk of bleeding in the external auditory canal when cerumen is removed. Effective treatment options include cerumenolytic agents, irrigation with or without cerumenolytic pretreatment, and manual removal. Home irrigation with a bulb syringe may be appropriate for selected adults. Cotton-tipped swabs, ear candling, and olive oil drops or sprays should be avoided. If multiple attempts to remove the impacted cerumen-including a combination of treatments-are ineffective, clinicians should refer the patient to an otolaryngologist. Persistent symptoms despite resolution of the impaction should also prompt further evaluation for an alternative diagnosis.

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