Earwax, also known as cerumen, is a naturally occurring substance in the human ear that helps protect the ear canal from bacteria, dust, and other foreign particles. While it may seem like a nuisance at times, earwax serves an important purpose in maintaining our ear health.
In this article, we’ll discuss what earwax is, why we have it, and what it can tell us about our health.
What is Earwax?
Earwax is a waxy substance produced by the glands in the ear canal. It’s made up of a combination of dead skin cells, hair, and secretions from the glands. Earwax is normally produced in small quantities, and it’s usually expelled from the ear naturally. In some cases, however, earwax can build up and cause problems.
Facts About Earwax
Here are some interesting facts about earwax:
Earwax is not always the same color. It can be light yellow, dark brown, or even black in some cases.
Earwax can be wet or dry, depending on the individual.
Earwax is not dirt, and it’s not a sign of poor hygiene.
Earwax is not harmful, and it’s not a disease.
Excessive earwax buildup can cause hearing problems, and it can also increase the risk of ear infections.
Why Do People Have Earwax?
Earwax serves several important functions in the ear. It helps to lubricate the ear canal, which helps to prevent dryness and itching. It also helps to trap dirt, dust, and other foreign particles, preventing them from entering the ear and potentially causing damage or infection. Finally, earwax has antibacterial properties that help to keep the ear canal clean and healthy.
While earwax is a natural and necessary substance, it can sometimes build up and cause problems. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including:
Overproduction of earwax: Some people naturally produce more earwax than others.
Blockage: If something blocks the ear canal, such as a hearing aid or earplug, earwax can become trapped and build up.
Narrow ear canals: Some people have narrow ear canals that make it difficult for earwax to be expelled naturally.
Symptoms of earwax buildup can include:
Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor or audiologist. They can examine your ears and determine if earwax buildup is the problem.
What Earwax Says About You
Believe it or not, the color and consistency of your earwax can actually tell you a lot about your health. Here’s what you need to know:
Light yellow or orange earwax: This is the most common color of earwax. It’s generally considered to be healthy and normal.
Dark brown or black earwax: This color of earwax is also normal, but it may indicate that you produce more earwax than the average person. It can also indicate that the earwax is older and has been in the ear canal for longer.
Wet or sticky earwax: This type of earwax is more common in people of Asian descent. It’s generally considered to be healthy and normal.
Dry or flaky earwax: This type of earwax is more common in people of African or European descent. It’s also generally considered to be healthy and normal.
Gray or white earwax: This color of earwax may indicate that there is an excessive amount of dead skin cells or a lack of natural oils in the ear canal. This type of earwax is more common in older individuals and those who frequently use in-ear headphones or earplugs. While gray or white earwax is generally not a cause for concern, it’s still important to keep the ear canal clean to prevent buildup and infection.
Why cleaning your ear canals is not necessary?
It’s important to keep in mind that while earwax should be cleaned regularly, over-cleaning can actually be harmful. As the saying goes, “an overly clean ear can be an unhealthy ear.” When you clean your ears too often or too vigorously, you can remove too much of the earwax, which can leave your ear canal dry and itchy. Additionally, removing too much earwax can also lead to irritation or injury to the delicate skin of the ear canal, making it more susceptible to infection. To learn more about the dangers of over-cleaning your ears, check out this article from Audiology Online.
Hearing Aids and Earwax
Hearing aids are common devices used to help people with hearing loss. They work by amplifying sound and directing it into the ear canal. However, hearing aids can also contribute to earwax buildup. When a hearing aid is inserted into the ear, it can push earwax further into the ear canal, making it more difficult to remove. In some cases, earwax buildup can even cause hearing aids to malfunction.
To avoid these issues, it’s important to keep your ears clean and to regularly remove any excess earwax. You can learn how to clean your ears by following the guidelines provided by a trusted source like Audiology Island, which offers tips on how to keep your ears clean. It’s also a good idea to see a doctor or audiologist regularly to have your ears checked and to have any excess earwax removed safely, either through self-cleaning or professional ear cleaning by a licensed audiologist.
If you wear hearing aids, it’s important to clean them regularly as well. Earwax can build up on the hearing aid, causing it to become less effective. You can clean your hearing aids with a soft cloth or a special cleaning tool designed for hearing aids. Some hearing aid manufacturers have developed special coatings and materials that help to repel earwax and other debris. These coatings can help to reduce the amount of earwax buildup on the hearing aid, making them easier to clean and maintain. If you need professional help with ear cleaning or have any concerns about earwax and hearing aids, you can visit Audiology Island and consult with their licensed audiologist, Dr. Zhanneta Shapiro.
Earwax is a natural substance that plays an important role in maintaining ear health. While it may seem like a nuisance at times, it’s important to remember that earwax serves an important purpose in protecting our ears from damage and infection. If you’re experiencing symptoms of earwax buildup, such as ear pain or hearing loss, it’s important to see a doctor or audiologist. They can examine your ears and determine the best course of action for safely removing any excess earwax.
By understanding the role of earwax in ear health and taking steps to keep our ears clean, we can help to prevent problems and maintain our hearing for years to come.
Dr Zhanneta Shapiro received her Masters of Science from Brooklyn College in 2005 and completed her Doctorate of Audiology from Florida University in May 2008. Her graduate training was in various hospitals in the tri-state area and a residency period completed at Ear Nose and Throat Associates of New York. [ Learn More ]