When it comes to ears, there’s one thing that people find gross: earwax. However, earwax (also known as cerumen) is a very important and common component inside the ear canal.Its presence in the ear canal lubricates the skin and protects the ear drum. The combination of cerumen and hair in the ear canal keeps foreign objects (such as insects, dust, and germs) from entering the ear canal.
What Is Earwax, Anyway?
Cerumen is made of sebum (an oily secretion of the sebaceous glands), old skin cells, and secretions from the ceruminous and apocrine glands.The apocrine glands, which help produce earwax, are also responsible for increased sweat when you’re stressed or scared. That’s why cerumen tends to buildup anytime you feel anxious.
Do You Have Wet or Dry Earwax?
There are two general types of cerumen: wet and dry. The type you have is primarily based on your genes. Individuals with wet earwax tend to be of European or African descent. Dry cerumen is linked to Asian or Native American populations.
Earwax Buildup: What NOT to Do
Cerumen can buildup excessively, causing a temporary hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears), vertigo, or malfunctioning hearing aids. Removing the cerumen tends to relieve these symptoms. However, the saying “never stick anything smaller than your elbow into your ear” (except for hearing aids, of course) is true. Putting a Q-Tip, hair pin, key, etc in the ear to remove cerumen can actually push it further back in the ear canal, creating more of a blockage.
Ears Are Self-Cleaning
The ears tend to be self-cleaning in two ways:
- The skin in the ear canal grows outward, moving the cerumen out.
- The movement of the jaw while chewing, talking, or yawning causes the earwax to move toward the opening of the ear canal.
While the ear has a self-cleaning mechanism, you may want to remove excess earwax to prevent the complications noted above.
What You CAN Do About Earwax Buildup
A safe way to remove wax from the ear at home (if there is no ear tube, hole in the eardrum, or active infection) is placing a small amount of a mixture of half hydrogen peroxide/half water in the ear a few times a week. This helps soften the ear wax enough to be easily rinsed out with water. Otherwise, the safest way to have the cerumen removed is by an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist.