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QJM. 2004 Aug;97(8):477-88.

Impacted cerumen: composition, production, epidemiology and management.

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  • 1CATALYST Health Economics Consultants, 34b High Street, Northwood, Middlesex HA6 1BN, UK.


In the UK, some 2.3 million people suffer cerumen ('ear wax') problems serious enough to warrant management, with approximately 4 million ears syringed annually. Impacted cerumen is a major cause of primary care consultation, and a common comorbidity in ENT patients, the elderly, infirm and people with mental retardation. Despite this, the physiology, clinical significance and management implications of excessive and impacted cerumen remain poorly characterized. There are no well-designed, large, placebo-controlled, double-blind studies comparing treatments, and accordingly, the evidence surrounding the management of impacted cerumen is inconsistent, allowing few conclusions. The causes and management of impacted cerumen require further investigation. Physicians are supposed to follow the edicts and principles of evidence-based medicine and clinical governance. Currently, in patients with impacted cerumen, the lack of evidence makes this impossible.

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