Keratosis obturans

Keratosis obturans is a rare external auditory canal (EAC) disease characterized by abnormal accumulation and consequently occlusion and expansion of the bony portion of the EAC by a plug of desquamated keratin. It can be confused for EAC cholesteatoma but they are completely different entities requiring different treatment.

Keratosis obturans is seen in younger patients usually less than 40 years old and is bilateral in 50% of cases.

Patients present with acute severe pain and conductive hearing loss.

The cause is not clear in the majority of cases.

Keratosis obturans is characterized by:

  • dense plug of keratin debris within the deep meatus
  • hyperplasia of the underlying epithelium
  • chronic inflammation within the subepithelial tissue
  • remodeling and expansion of the canal
  • no evidence of erosion or necrosis of the underlying bone

NB particularly in the pediatric group which these concurrent findings approach 80%; but only in 20% of adult patients.

  • well-defined soft tissue mass within the bony EAC which may diffusely enlarge the canal with no bony erosion, as opposed to EAC cholesteatoma
  • tympanic canal is usually spared but may be slightly thickened
  • external auditory canal debris, which are partially filling the EAC and usually show air foci
  • external auditory canal cholesteatoma: EAC soft tissue density with bony erosion
  • external auditory canal carcinoma: irregular mass with or without bony erosion
  • otitis externa: surrounding inflammatory fat stranding

Usually treated by EAC toilet; due to a high incidence of recurrence, it may require several excisions of keratin plugs. It rarely needs surgical intervention.

Article information

rID: 41645
System: Head & Neck
Tag: cases
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Laminated epithelial plug
  • Keratosis obturans
  • Keratosis obturans (KO)

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Cases and figures

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