Most people don’t want to think about the sticky goo in their ears. It’s not till we have a buildup or infection that we even stop to think about what earwax even is. Earwax is not wax at all, but a substance called cerumen and it plays an important role in the health of our ears. Let’s explore some interesting facts about earwax many of us never have considered.
If It’s Not Wax, What Is It?
The auditory system is a fragile and intricate place and it’s amazing what goes into allowing us to hear. Within the ear canal, dead skin cells are constantly falling off and renewing. This is primarily what earwax consists of, but it has a few more elements. The secretions from the sebaceous and ceruminous glands lubricate dead skin cells to give earwax its waxy and sticky texture. The ceruminous gland is located just below the outer ear while sebaceous glands are located throughout the body’s skin and add in providing moisture throughout by providing oil. In addition to dead skin cells, the added secretions include a combination of fatty acids, squalene, alcohols, and cholesterol.
Earwax is Essential for Hearing Health
Earwax lubricates the skin in the ear canal and provides protection. Many people don’t know that cerumen is antibacterial. A tiny cut or lesion in the inner ear could easily become infected causing serious hearing issues if unaddressed. Earwax helps to prevent cuts from becoming infected, but its function does not end there. Every time we chew, speak, or do any movement with our jaw, earwax moves towards the outer ear. This creates a sort of conveyor belt of sorts. As we navigate a normal day, dirt and debris are likely to enter the ear canal and the sticky nature of earwax can collect this and move it out of the inner ear where it could impede hearing.
Your Earwax Reflects What You Eat
Many people are surprised to discover that earwax can change color. This can be affected by the environment and diet. When you are in an environment with more dirt in the air it will make your earwax darker—a sign that your earwax has trapped more dirt. Research has linked diets higher in gluten, dairy, and sugars to excessive amounts of earwax.
It’s Important to Have Just the Right Amount
Sometimes earwax builds up and if you collect too much in your ear canal it can cause a blockage, making it difficult to hear. However, too little earwax can be just as much of a problem. If your ears have ever felt dry or itchy, it may be because you’ve cleaned out your earwax too thoroughly.
The Safe Way to Clean Out Your Ears At Home
Many people have incorporated cleaning out their ears as part of their daily routine but it’s important to do this safely. For starters, ditch the cotton swabs! Most medical practitioners recommend avoiding sticking anything smaller than your elbow into your ear canal. There are so many fragile and delicate parts of the inner ear that could become damaged causing more serious issues. Cleaning with cotton swabs can also risk pushing earwax deeper into the ear canal, making an impaction more pronounced.
Instead, try inserting a couple of drops of mineral oil into your ears. This should lubricate the earwax and allow it to come out on its own. Insert the mineral oil while lying on your side and allow a couple of hours for the oil to do its job. Many also find success using hydrogen peroxide, though it creates a bubbling sensation which some find uncomfortable. After a couple of hours take a warm and steamy shower. This should loosen the earwax, allowing it to flow to the outer ear, where it can be wiped away with a soft washcloth.
Seeking Professional Help
Sometimes an impaction is too severe and requires professional help. If you are struggling to hear it could be a sign of impaction but could mean so many other things. Don’t delay in scheduling a hearing exam so we can help you find out and treat whatever is going on.