There’s a whole culture built on removing earwax, from Q-tips to ear candling – but did you know that earwax is actually good for your ears?
Yes, you heard us right – earwax is healthy! So, put down that cotton swab and hear us out.
What is Earwax?
Earwax, also known as cerumen, is a substance produced by the apocrine glands (which also produce sweat). It is a normal bodily product, which is made of gross stuff such as oil and sweat, mixed with dirt and dead skin cells.
Earwax plays three main functions in good ear health. First, its stickiness is one of its finest attributes! Like fly paper collects flies, earwax is a sticky barrier that captures dirt and bacteria before it enters our inner ears. The inner ear environment is a sensitive place. It is responsible for translating sound vibrations into neural signals that make their way to our brains to be registered as sound. Any disruption of this environment could be bad for our hearing.
Earwax is also a natural bug repellent – insects can’t stand the smell and steer clear from entering our ears. Additionally, earwax acts as a moisturizer for our outer ear, making sure that it does not get too dry or irritated. Irritation could lead to infection – which is not good for the health of our ears!
Different Kinds of Earwax
Earwax comes in two main forms: wet and dry. Most Caucasian and African populations have wet earwax, while Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Asians have dry earwax.
Earwax also comes in many different colors! The color of the earwax will indicate a person’s age, usually. For children, earwax is usually a light color and is softer. As we get older and our earwax collects more dirt and bacteria, the color of earwax darkens and hardens. Earwax that is light brown, orange, or yellow means that is healthy and normal. If there is a red tinge in your earwax, this could mean you have a bleeding injury – in which case, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Why You Shouldn’t Remove Your Earwax
Earwax, like many of our bodily functions, are self-regulating. As such, we should not remove our earwax. In fact, regularly removing earwax signals to the body that it needs to produce more, which will trap you in a cycle of earwax buildup and removal!
When you are in the shower, the trickle of warm water helps to soften your earwax. If you must, clean your outer ears with a soft, warm washcloth. For the most part, people with have healthy diets and good hygiene will naturally expel earwax without even realizing it. The movement of the jaw when you speak and eat will ensure the natural removal of your earwax.
What if Earwax is Building Up?
Certain conditions tend to create more earwax production. Stress and fear could lead to more earwax production, as earwax is produced by apocrine glands. People with more hair in their ear canals, or people who suffer from chronic ear infections also tend to have more earwax.
If you find that earwax is building up quickly, avoid using cotton swabs or hairpins, or any sharp instruments altogether, to remove the earwax. Do not use an ear candle either, as this trend has been known to cause injury and permanent hearing damage.
The most important thing to do is schedule annual hearing checkups with a hearing specialist. During your hearing test, your hearing specialist will examine your ears with an otoscope, which will identify whether there is earwax buildup that impacts your hearing.