Ear wax: A recipe of cholesterol, fatty acids, enzymes, alcohols, sebum, sloughed-off skin cells, and other chemicals designed especially for your ears.
Also called cerumen, ear wax is a yellowish, naturally occurring sticky substance in our ear. It is secreted as a waxy oil by the ceruminous and the sebaceous glands in the skin of the outer ear canal.
What possible reason could our ears have for producing this waxy substance?
Cerumen has both lubricating and antibacterial properties.
It forms a natural defensive barrier for the innermost parts of our ears against any possible irritation, damage or infection from dust, foreign particles, water or micro-organisms entering from the outer environment. Average cerumen is slightly acidic—which inhibits fungal and bacterial growth.
It acts as a moisturizer and a protective coating for our ear canal. Without earwax, our outer ear might get itchy and flaky, which puts it at a greater risk of becoming irritated and infected.
It acts as an insect repellant too. The smell of earwax keeps bugs away, while the stickiness traps those that accidentally venture inside.
Normally, as it gets older, it dries up and is replaced by a newer fresher secretion. The outward movement of this dried-up earwax is facilitated a) by the skin in our ears that grows from the inside out, and b) by the movement of the jaw while yawning, talking, chewing, etcetera. When it reaches the outside of the ear, it flakes off along with any trapped dust or debris (dead skin cells and hair).
Color of your Cerumen says a lot about you
Generally, a Light brown, orange or yellow earwax is healthy and normal but sometimes it changes its color. And when the color changes, it speaks about your ear health.
- Dark brown or black – is typically older, so its color comes from the dirt and bacteria it has trapped. Adults tend to have darker, harder earwax.
- Yellow and sticky – helps to prevent the ear canals from drying out and from becoming itchy.
- Grey – an unusual color, might be an indicator of eczema.
- Dark-colored, thick and sticky earwax – indicates that the body is producing more sweat than usual and you should probably use a deodorant. Stress and anxiety also play a substantial role here.
- White, dry and flaky – indicates you lack a body-odor producing chemical.
- Wet and runny – is a natural cleaning process but when it comes in large quantity along with blood and/or pus, then it is a sure shot indication of a ruptured eardrum. Rush to your doctor immediately in this condition.
- Green and watery – indicate an ear infection.
- Strong and odorous – points to a middle ear infection.
Do get in touch with your doctor if the color of your wax deviates from the normal.
How much is too much?
Usually, the body knows exactly how much earwax to produce. As long as you maintain a healthy diet, have good hygiene and move your jaw (think yawning, chewing and talking), your ears will naturally expel excess earwax, dirt and debris without any intervention. However, if it builds up, it can cause issues.
Symptoms of impacted earwax
- Sense of ear fullness
- Itching in the ear
- Ringing in the ears
- Hearing loss
Don’t remove earwax unless it’s problematic—or you risk making it worse
Hearing loss from ear cleaning is a real thing. When you make a habit of removing earwax, it sends a signal to your body to make more, creating an excess that can interfere with hearing, or put you at greater risk for developing ear infections and other complications.
Ear Candling—an ear cleaning method you should definitely avoid
Ear Candling has long been touted as a “natural ear wax removal” practice by many natural health food stores and services. Those who practice it stick a cone-shaped, hollow candle-like thing into their ear canals and set it on fire. Needless to say, thousands of people end up in the doctor’s office with ear candling injuries every year.
Important things to remember about ear candling:
- It’s been proven ineffective for ear cleaning and can infact make ear wax impaction worse.
- It causes burn injuries to the face, ears, hair, etc. – even burns that go all the way to the eardrum and middle ear.
- It’s also been known to puncture the eardrum.
So just… don’t do it!
Stress and fear can also accelerate earwax production. That’s because the same apocrine glands that produce sweat also produce cerumen.
Others who tend to produce too much earwax include those:
- with a lot of hair in their ear canals.
- who suffer from chronic ear infections.
- who have abnormally-formed ear canals or osteomata.
- who are elderly, have certain skin conditions or certain learning disabilities.
How to clean your ears SAFELY
While your ears are self-cleaning, there are a few things you can do to keep them clean and free of excess debris:
- It’s only safe to clean the outside of the ears and to use ear drops or water to soften the earwax before removal. Washing your ears using a warm, soapy washcloth or letting warm water from your daily shower run into your ears every so often is probably enough to soften and loosen excess earwax.
- Do not clean ears with a cotton swab, hairpin, chopstick, key, or any other sharp instrument in an attempt to remove wax yourself. This can push the dirty old wax deeper into the ear canal where it can get impacted and is unable to be sloughed off naturally. You could even puncture your eardrum or cause hearing loss.
- If you wear hearing aids, make sure you clean them properly.
See a doctor immediately if your home treatments don’t work on your symptoms or if you experience sudden hearing loss, pain or bleeding.
You can use homoeopathic ear drops Mullein oil to soften the hard and impacted earwax effectively in a short span of time before removal. If you suffer from recurrent wax build-up or impaction, there are medicines in homoeopathy to alleviate the unpleasant condition. Also, there are many remedies to suit your symptoms of infection, injury, pain or hearing loss depending upon the underlying cause.