illustration of an ear with ear wax in it

All About Earwax

Contributed by HearingLife

12/18/2023 12:00:00 AM • 5 min read

Earwax is a controversial subject on the internet! Is it gross or cool? Do we like watching videos of people removing it or do we shudder at the thought? Is it something to remove daily or something to be left alone? Read on to learn all about earwax and the important role it plays in the health of your ears.

What is earwax?

Earwax, medically known as cerumen, is made by glands in the ear canal as a cleaning mechanism. The wax is there to protect your inner ear. The ear has both sebaceous glands and ceruminous glands, which make sebum and cerumen. These two substances work together to make earwax.

There are two types of earwax – wet and dry. The wet type is more common and is common among people of European and African descent. The dry type is flaky and is common among people of East Asian descent.

What does ear wax do?

In order to protect your inner ear, earwax traps and prevents dust, germs, small objects, skin cells, and even bacteria from getting into the ear. It also helps keep the delicate skin of your ear canal moisturized and waterproof.

Earwax is naturally antimicrobial and comes in a rainbow of colors, including off-white, yellow, orange, light and dark brown.

For some people, ear wax causes problems! If it is over-produced, it may harden in the ear canal and block the ear, known as impaction. Impacted earwax must be removed by a healthcare provider because trying to remove it at home can cause it to go deeper into the ear canal.

Earwax may also cause itching in the ears, but don’t be tempted to use a cotton swab to relieve the itch – that may cause impacted earwax!

How can I safely remove earwax at home?

For most people, there is no need to remove earwax at home. Ear wax naturally works its way out of your ear when you talk and chew. Once it is in the outer part of the ear canal, a tissue on your finger is all you need to wipe it away.

Ear candles, wax vacuums, cotton swabs or other objects should never be used to remove earwax at home.

When should I see a healthcare professional about my earwax?

If you have any of the following symptoms, you should see a hearing care or healthcare professional about your earwax:

  • Itching that lasts longer than a few hours
  • New hearing loss
  • Earache
  • If your ear feels full
  • Tinnitus (ringing in your ear)
  • A foul odor coming from your ear
  • Runny discharge coming from your ear

Earwax and hearing aids

Often, hearing aid wearers need extra help with earwax because the devices sitting in the ears can keep the wax from naturally working its way out of the ear. This is why cleaning your in-the-canal hearing aids daily is necessary. For behind-the-ear hearing aid wearers, wax traps can be replaced, and domes need to be cleaned or replaced regularly as well. You can see a video of how to clean your hearing aids here. Your HearingLife provider can also give you advice about earwax management.

As you can see, earwax is an amazing thing! If you’ve ever had a big chunk fall out of your ear, that was your body doing exactly what it was meant to do. If you notice a change in your hearing, schedule a complimentary hearing assessment at a HearingLife near you today.

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