The ear canal is lined with hair follicles and glands that produce a waxy oil called cerumen. The wax usually makes its way to the opening of the ear, where it falls out or is removed by washing.
Wax can build up and block the ear canal. Wax blockage is one of the most common causes of hearing loss.
Ear impaction; Cerumen impaction; Ear blockage
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Ear wax protects the ear by:
Trapping and preventing dust, bacteria, and other germs and small objects from entering and damaging the ear
Protecting the delicate skin of the ear canal from getting irritated when water is in the canal
In some people, the glands produce more wax than can be easily removed from the ear. This extra wax may harden in the ear canal and block the ear. When you try to clean the ear, you may instead push wax deeper and block the ear canal.
Hearing loss that continues after you clean the wax
Riviello RJ, Brown NA. Otolaryngologic procedures. In: Roberts JR, Hedges JR, eds. Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:chap 64.
Armstrong C. Diagnosis and management cerumen impaction. Am Fam Physician. 2009 Nov 1;80(9):1011-1013.
House JC, Lee DJ. Topical therapies of external ear disorders. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2010:chap 138.
O'Handley JG, Tobin EJ, Shah AR. Otorhinolaryngology. In: Rakel RE, ed. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 19.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington; Seth Schwartz, MD, MPH, Otolaryngologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.