A prospective study to evaluate the efficacy of isopropyl alcohol irrigations to prevent cerumen impaction

March 1, 2012
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We conducted a prospective crossover study to assess the safety and efficacy of 70% isopropyl alcohol delivered from a squeezable bottle with a specially designed tip as a weekly irrigant to reduce cerumen accumulation. Twenty patients were divided into 2 groups of 10 (20 ears in each group). The patients in group 1 instilled 70% isopropyl alcohol once a week for 2 months; this was followed by 2 months of no ear cleaning. The patients in group 2 performed the opposite routine. At each visit (0, 2, and 4 mo), cerumen accumulation was graded on a scale of 0 to 4, indicating 0, 25, 50, 75, and 100% occlusion, respectively. After the accumulation was graded, a cerumenectomy was performed. At the initial evaluation, the mean occlusion scores were 3.1 for group 1 and 3.3 for group 2-not a statistically significant difference. After the first 2 months of the study, there was a significant difference in occlusion scores between groups 1 and 2 (0.75 and 1.55, respectively; p < 0.0002). At 4 months, after the crossover, the occlusion scores were 1.15 and 0.95, respectively, not a significant difference (p = 0.38). At study's end, there were also significant differences within each group between occlusion scores obtained during the treatment and nontreatment periods (group 1: p < 0.02; group 2: p < 0.01). All patients tolerated the alcohol rinse well, and there were no cases of external otitis or other complications. We conclude that weekly irrigation with 70% isopropyl alcohol is safe and reduces the accumulation of cerumen in the external auditory canal. Routine use should decrease the number of office visits for cerumen removal and hearing aid cleaning.


Cerumen is a mixture of exfoliated squamous epithelium and secretions from apocrine and sebaceous glands in the outer third of the ear canal. Although cerumen naturally helps to clean, protect, and lubricate the ear canal, excess accumulation can lead to clinically significant impaction and hearing loss. In fact, about 12 million people in the United States seek medical care annually for problematic cerumen, resulting in nearly 8 million cerumen removal procedures.1

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CitationEar Nose Throat J. 2012 March;91(3):E25