Keratosis obturans (KO) is the buildup of keratin in the ear canal. Keratin is a protein released by skin cells that form the hair, nails, and protective barrier on the skin.
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 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 will also be asked about your symptoms.
A CT scan or x-ray of the head may be done to help diagnose the problem.
KO is usually treated by removing the buildup of material. Medicine is then applied to the ear canal.
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.
Naples JG, Brant JA, Ruckenstein MJ. Infections of the external ear. In: Flint PW, Francis HW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 138.
Ying YLM. Keratosis obturans and canal cholesteatoma. In: Myers EN, Snyderman CH, eds. Operative Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 128.
Review Date: 6/19/2021
Reviewed By: Ramin Fathi, MD, FAAD, Director, Phoenix Surgical Dermatology Group, Phoenix, AZ. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.