Ear wax, whilst often considered unsightly, performs an important function within our ears. It is a naturally occurring substance that serves to clean, protect, and lubricate our ear canals and is an entirely normal and necessary product of a properly functioning ear.
So, What is Earwax?
Earwax, or cerumen, is produced in the outer third of the ear canal. It is formed when secretions from oil and sweat glands mix with dead skin cells, dust and dirt and hair. It migrates out of the ear by a ‘conveyor belt’ motion of the superficial skin layer and is assisted by jaw movement which carries it to the external ear where it either falls out or can be wiped away. It is acidic and bitter to the taste.
Everyone has a slightly different make-up of earwax with everything from diet to ethnicity influencing precisely what your earwax is comprised of.
There are two primary types of earwax:
- Wet wax, which is dominant: most common in Caucasians and is sticky and honey coloured or light or dark brown
- Dry wax, which is recessive: most common in people with Pacific Islander and Asian ethnicity and is white/grey and flaky
Fun Facts ?..
- Wet-type earwax is associated with armpit odour and increased sweat production. So if you have brown, sticky ear wax, don’t skip that morning shower!
- Wax cannot be made into a usable candle – it was attempted and debunked by Mythbusters back in 2009 (only those with strong stomachs advised to view!)
What Colour Should Earwax Be?
Earwax comes in a variety of colours, ranging from white/yellow to dark brown. It is usually harder and darker in adults, and softer and lighter in children. Along with our skin, our wax also becomes drier as we age. This is why children, with slightly oilier skin, are more prone to wax impaction.
Why Do We Need Earwax?
The design of our outer ears and ear canals make them the perfect tool for catching and intensifying sound waves which are carried down the ear canal and translated into sound. Wax is present in the outer third of the ear canal to prevent materials such as dust and dirt also heading down the ear canal. Amongst other things, ear wax serves to trap unwanted matter.
Earwax lubricates the ear canal and helps prevent water from absorbing into the skin. It also contains properties that help prevent infections.
There is a commonly held belief that ears need to be ‘cleaned’, however in most cases the self cleaning mechanism of the ear works perfectly well and no intervention is necessary. Itching ears are often as sign of too little earwax, which can be as a result of over enthusiastic cleaning with cotton buds – best avoided!
Can I Have Too Much Earwax?
Accumulation of earwax caused by failure of the self-cleaning mechanism or pushing earwax down the ear canal through improper wax removal methods is one of the most common reasons patients seek medical care for ear-related problems. Once earwax reaches a point where the eardrum can no longer be viewed, or you are experiencing symptoms related to wax build up, removal of excess earwax is clinically indicated.
Causes and Symptoms of Excessive Earwax
Excessive or impacted cerumen is present in one in 10 children, one in 20 adults, and more than one third of the geriatric and developmentally delayed populations.
Some people are more prone to wax impaction than others.
More prone are those who:
- Have narrow, hairy or curvy ear canals
- Wear hearing aids
- Use cotton buds or other objects in the ear (e.g. ear candles)
- Have a hereditary disposition to wax build up
- Wear ear plugs or ear bud headphones regularly
- Work in dusty or dirty environments
- Suffer from stress
Symptoms associated with wax impaction can include but are not limited to:
- Hearing loss
- Tinnitus (a ringing in the ears)
- Feeling of fullness
How to Manage Earwax
The ears are self cleaning organs and for the majority of people earwax does not need ‘managing’. If you are unlucky enough to suffer from excessive earwax however don’t despair – there are painless and easy removal methods available to you.
Micro suction is performed at our dedicated ear wax removal clinics. Small instruments and gentle suction are used to remove wax from the ear canal without the need to touch the ear canal wall or drum which is a common cause of damage. Wax is removed by qualified registered nurses who are experienced in the procedure.
Contact Earworx to book an appointment today.