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Earwax - Complications of earwax

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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There are several complications that can occur as a result of impacted earwax or ear irrigation.

An ear infection may develop if you have untreated impacted earwax (earwax that is firmly lodged in your ear canal).

If your earwax touches your eardrum (tympanic membrane), it may cause discomfort and vertigo (the sensation that you are moving even though you are still).

The following complications have been reported from patients after their ear irrigation:

  • infection of the external ear canal (otitis externa)
  • middle ear infection 
  • perforated eardrum
  • damage to the external auditory meatus (the tube that connects the outer ear to the middle ear)
  • ear pain
  • vertigo
  • worsening of pre-existing tinnitus (the perception of noises in your ear that come from inside the body)

Sometimes, light bleeding can also occur which usually stops on its own. Nausea, vomiting and vertigo may occur due to variations in the temperature of the irrigating fluid.

Rarely (in about 1 in every 1,000 ears that are irrigated) serious complications can occur. These are described below.

Severe infection

In rare cases, infection may progress to the base of the skull and cause cranial paralysismeningitis (infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain) and even death.

The elderly, people with diabetes and those with a weak immune system are most likely to be affected.

Chronic tinnitus

Long-term (chronic) tinnitus can sometimes occur following earwax removal or ear irrigation. However, this is rare.

Medical Review: December 08, 2011
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