Before discussing the colour of ear wax, and what it means, it’s important to understand what ear wax is and the functions it performs.
For such an important substance, ear wax has a bit of an unfair reputation. Far from being a gross and unsightly substance in your ear, it’s actually a key defence mechanism for the health of your ears. It helps to clean and lubricate the ear canals, while also preventing dust, dirt and other nasties from creeping in.
Ear wax, or cerumen, is formed in the outer third of the ear canal and is a mixture of secretions from oil and sweat glands, as well as dust, dirt, hair and dead skin cells. Healthy ears are entirely self-cleaning. The wax moves out of the ear canal by a mixture of jaw movement and the motion of the superficial skin layer. When it reaches the external ear it falls out naturally, and any remnants can be wiped away.
Everyone has different ear wax, and it is your genetic background that dictates what type of ear wax you have. Wax can be either wet or dry, depending on genetics. Wet wax (honey coloured sticky wax) is more common amongst Caucasians and Africans, where dry wax (white/grey and flaky) is more common in those of Asian descent. This same gene also impacts on sweat production – if you have wet wax you are more likely to have body odour! But back to earwax colours.
Learning From Ear Wax Colour
Let’s look at some common earwax colours:
- Soft, yellow ear wax: Newer ear wax is commonly this colour, and this is usually a sign of healthy ear wax production as your wax isn’t hardening too much before it falls out.
- Darker, firm ear wax: This is a sign of older earwax that may have hardened. If you notice this coloured wax and are suffering from wax related symptoms, it may be a sign of an impaction, and you should have your ears checked by a professional.
- Flaky and pale ear wax: Earwax tends to become flaky and pale as it heads to the outer third of the ear canal and combines with shedding skin. This is an indication of a healthy self-cleaning mechanism taking place within your ear.
- Blood-tinged ear wax: This is an indication of some injury to the ear, like a scratched canal or even trauma. It can also be a sign of improper wax removal techniques. In fact, very few home ear wax removal techniques are safe. You should just let your wax naturally fall out and wipe away any visible remains from the outside of the ear. Using fingers, cotton tips, candles (or any other objects in the ears) may just push wax further into the ear and cause potential damage.
- Runny and cloudy: If you notice cloudy ear wax that has a runny texture, may or may not have an offensive smell, and you have associated symptoms of pain or itching,you should visit a health professional. . This is often not wax but rather secondary debris related to a bacterial or fungal external ear infection which may need to be treated with prescription ear drops. Keep the ear dry and seek medical advice.
- Non-earwax colours: on occasion, foreign bodies do become stuck inside the ear canal. Items such as dislodged hearing aid domes, insects, bits of paper and plastic, stickers, blu tac etc.. can become trapped in the ear canal and require manual removal. Again, this should be checked by an earwax removal professional.
How Does Micro-Suction and Curettage Work?
Microsuction and curettage is a safe and effective way for removing all types of ear wax and foreign bodies. The procedure is performed by qualified and registered nurses that are experts in aural health.
It involves the use of gentle suction and small instruments within the ear canal to facilitate the removal of wax and foreign bodies. Direct observation is possible thanks to the use of loupes, which are binocular glasses optimised by a bright light that allows the nurse to maintain direct and complete vision of your ears at all times.
Before the process begins, the nurse will thoroughly examine your ears to assess whether or not wax removal is clinically indicated. The entire process is gentle and pain-free, and if you are suffering from an impacted or blocked ear, you will feel almost instant relief.
So, monitor the colour of your ear wax and keep track of your ear health. Subtle changes in colour could be telling you quite a bit.