Cerumen composition by flash pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry

Craig N. Burkhart, Michael Kruge, Craig G. Burkhart, Curtis Black

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Objective: To assess the chemical composition of cerumen by flash pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. Study Design: Collected earwax specimens were fractionated into residue and supernatant by means of deoxycholate. This natural bile acid produces significantly better disintegration of earwax in vitro than do presently available ceruminolytic preparations, and also has demonstrated excellent clinical results in vivo to date. Patients: The sample for analysis was obtained from a patient with clinical earwax impaction. Results: The supernatant is composed of simple aromatic hydrocarbons, C5-C17 straight-chain hydrocarbons, a complex mixture of compounds tentatively identified as diterpenoids, and steroids, in particular cholesterol. The residue, on the other hand, produced simple aromatic compounds (including benzenes, phenols, and benzonitriles), C5-C25 straight-chain hydrocarbons, greater relative quantities of nitrogen compounds and phenol, and lesser importance of the (tentatively identified) diterpenoids. Conclusions: Through the use of the detergent deoxycholate, squalene and a tentatively identified diterpenoid were revealed to be present in a free, unbound state, whereas some steroids and hydrocarbons appeared to be bound to a macromolecular structure by nitrogen linkages or other bonds. Additionally, this study reintroduces detergents as a viable method of earwax removal, specifically the bile acids.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)715-722
Number of pages8
JournalOtology and Neurotology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2001


  • Cerumen
  • Ceruminolytic
  • Flash pyrolysis
  • Gas chromatography
  • Mass spectrometry


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