Cerumen is another word for ear wax – a substance that the body uses to protect the ears. Tiny glands in the ear canal secrete it, creating a sticky surface that collects unwanted particles, keeping them clean.
Generally, the body produces small quantities of cerumen. However, there are times when it may overproduce ear wax or fail to clear it, leading to impacted cerumen.
What is impacted cerumen?
Impacted cerumen occurs when ear wax builds up in the ear to the point at which the ear canal can no longer clear it.
Nature designed ears to clean themselves. However, when cerumen builds up too much, the tiny hairs that would usually transport it out of the ear no longer function. This can lead to blockages, causing a range of unwanted symptoms.
What are the consequences of impacted cerumen?
The consequences of impacted cerumen can be severe. Besides a general loss of hearing, the condition can also lead to infection, hearing loss and irritation. It also makes it difficult for hearing specialists, physicians and audiologists to peer into the ear canal and diagnose problems.
What are the symptoms of impacted cerumen?
If you have impacted cerumen or ear wax, there are usually some telltale symptoms. The most common sensation is a feeling of fullness in the ear canal from wax pushing up against it.
You may also experience pain in your ear or discharge. Some patients may also experience dizziness since ear wax can affect the ear’s balance centres.
You may find that the colour of ear wax discharge varies. The darker the colour, the older the ear wax. Bright yellow and runny ear wax is new, whereas brown has likely been there for some time.
If the ear wax contains green pus, you may have an infection. Black ear wax is a sign that the cerumen has been mixed with blood. If you notice any, go and see your healthcare provider immediately.
How can you prevent ear wax build-up?
You can prevent ear wax buildup by avoiding stuffing cotton buds in your ear. These can sometimes make the problem worse by impacting cerumen further. You can also stop using earplugs at night, though that might not always be an option for you.
How can you treat impacted cerumen?
Ear health specialists use a technique called microsuction ear wax removal to resolve impacted cerumen. This involves using a compact suction device that pulls unwanted wax from the ear.