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Contact: Jessica Mikulski
American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery

National guidelines released for earwax removal

New recommendations from ENT doctors on the treatment of impacted cerumen for adults and children

Alexandria, Va. - The American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAO-HNSF) will issue the first comprehensive clinical guidelines to help health care practitioners identify patients with cerumen (commonly referred to as earwax) impaction. The guidelines emphasize evidence-based management of cerumen impaction by clinicians, and inform patients of the purpose of ear wax in hearing health.

"Approximately 12 million people a year in the U.S. seek medical care for impacted or excessive cerumen," said Richard Rosenfeld, MD, MPH, Chair of the AAO-HNSF Guideline Development Task Force. "This leads to nearly 8 million cerumen removal procedures by health care professionals. Developing practical clinical guidelines for physicians to understand the harm vs. benefit profile of the intervention was essential."

Cerumen, commonly called "earwax," is not really a "wax" but a water-soluble mixture of secretions (produced in the outer third of the ear canal), plus hair and dead skin, that serves a protective function for the ear. Cerumen is a natural product that should not be routinely removed unless impacted.

Cerumen impaction occurs when enough earwax accumulates to cause symptoms (pain, fullness, itching, odor, tinnitus, discharge, cough, or hearing loss), or to prevent needed assessment of the ear. The problem affects 1 in 10 children, 1 in 20 adults, and greater than one-third of the elderly and cognitively impaired.

"Unfortunately, many people feel the need to manually 'remove' cerumen from the ears," said Peter Roland, MD, Chair of the Cerumen Impaction Guideline Panel. "This can result in further impaction and other complications to the ear canal."

Any excessive cerumen normally migrates out of the ear canal automatically, assisted by motion of the jaw (e.g., chewing), and carries with it dirt, dust, and other small particles in the ear canal.

Recognizing that patients may seek care from many different types of health care providers, the guidelines are intended for all clinicians who are likely to diagnose and manage patients with cerumen impaction.

Key features of the new guidelines include:

"The complications from cerumen impaction can be painful and ongoing, including infections and hearing loss," says Dr. Roland. "It is hoped that these guidelines will give clinicians the tools they need to spot an issue early and avoid serious outcomes."

The guidelines were created by a multidisciplinary panel of clinicians representing the fields of otolaryngology, audiology, family medicine, geriatrics, internal medicine, nursing, and pediatrics.


"Clinical Practice Guideline on Cerumen Impaction" will appear as a supplement to the September 2008 issue of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery, the peer-reviewed scientific journal of the American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAO-HNSF) and the American Academy of Otolaryngic Allergy. The guidelines will also be presented in a seminar during the 2008 AAO-HNSF Annual Meeting & OTO EXPO in Chicago, September 21 - 24, 2008.

Reporters wishing to receive the full text of the guidelines should contact Jessica Mikulski at 703-535-3762 or 703-657-9715, or via email at newsroom@entnet.org. Beginning September 1, 2008, the guidelines will be posted on the AAO-HNS website at http://www.entnet.org.

About the AAO-HNS

The American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery (www.entnet.org), one of the oldest medical associations in the nation, represents more than 12,000 physicians and allied health professionals who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the ears, nose, throat, and related structures of the head and neck. The Academy serves its members by facilitating the advancement of the science and art of medicine related to otolaryngology and by representing the specialty in governmental and socioeconomic issues. The organization's mission: "Working for the Best Ear, Nose, and Throat Care."

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