It may be hard to believe that ear wax can affect your health, but this light brown, orange, or yellow substance plays an important role in protecting your inner ear from bacteria and keeping you infection-free. In this post, we’re addressing these commonly asked questions about ear wax:
- What is ear wax?
- Why is ear wax necessary?
- How do I safely clean my ears?
- Can you have too much ear wax?
What is ear wax?
Ear wax, also called cerumen, is a naturally-occurring substance that contains sweat, dead skin cells, and oil produced by apocrine glands in your ear canal. Everyone has ear wax, but the amount, color, and type may differ because of genetic characteristics, environmental factors, age, and diet.
Why is ear wax necessary?
Although scientists still don’t fully understand ear wax, we know it is beneficial to our health. Ear wax is a natural barrier in the outer ear that helps keep dirt and bacteria away from the inner ear. It also acts as a moisturizer and protective coat for your ear canal to help prevent itchiness or flakiness of the ear, two common problems that can lead to infections.
How do I safely clean my ears?
With a healthy diet, good hygiene, and regular jaw movement from chewing or talking, your ears will naturally get rid of any excess ear wax or debris without intervention. In cases of excess ear wax, contact your doctor or audiologist for proper removal.
There are a few simple things you can do on a regular basis to help ensure your ears stay clean and free of debris, including:
- Wash the outer part of your ears gently with a warm, soapy washcloth
- Do not use cotton swabs, hairpins, or other sharp materials to try to remove wax yourself as they can push the wax even deeper into your ear canal or, in extreme cases, puncture your ear canal or eardrum
- Schedule regular hearing exams by a trained hearing healthcare provider
Can you have too much ear wax?
In most cases, your body will naturally produce the amount of ear wax needed to maintain healthy ear health. However, some people may experience excess wax due to genetic characteristics or other health factors. People who use hearing aids or earplugs frequently are also more prone to ear wax blockage.
Some symptoms of ear wax blockage include:
- Ear pain
- Ringing or muffled sound in the ear
- Itching or drainage from the ear
Seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms or notice changes in balance. Your doctor can examine your ears and safely remove the buildup. For people prone to excess ear wax, scheduling regular appointments every six months to a year can help keep symptoms at bay.
While ear wax may not be something you usually think about, this natural substance helps keep your ears healthy and safe from harmful bacteria or debris. While there is very little maintenance customarily required to keep ear wax in check, be sure to check in with your doctor if you experience excessive amounts of wax or hearing loss symptoms.
The above information is provided for the education and enjoyment of our readers and is not intended as medical advice. Please check with your own doctor if you have any questions or concerns.