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Keratosis obturans

Definition

Keratosis obturans (KO) is the buildup of keratin in the ear canal. Keratin is a protein in skin cells.

Causes

The exact cause of KO is unknown. It may be due to a problem with how skin cells in the ear canal are produced. Or, it may be caused by overstimulation of the wax glands by the nervous system.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • Mild to severe pain
  • Reduced hearing ability
  • Inflammation of ear canal

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will examine your ear canal. You'll also be asked about your symptoms.

A CT scan or x-ray of the head may be done to help diagnose the problem.

Treatment

KO is usually treated by removing the buildup of material. Medicine is then applied to the ear canal.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Regular follow-ups and cleaning by the provider are important to avoid infections. In some people, lifetime cleaning may be needed.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your provider if you feel pain in the ear or difficulty in hearing.

References

Brant JA, Ruckenstein MJ. Infections of the external ear. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 137.

Wenig BM. Non-neoplastic diseases of the ear. In: Wenig BM, ed. Atlas of Head and Neck Pathology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 23.

Review Date: 
4/14/2017
Reviewed By: 
Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.