When most people think of earwax, they get kind of grossed out. Earwax is the sticky yellow to white discolored substance that comes out of your ears. A lot of us spend time cleaning it out of our ears, and wishing it wasn’t there. However, earwax is much more than just a sticky substance and like most of the body’s creations, it plays an important role in our health – particularly for our hearing.
It’s Technically not Wax
It’s called wax because of its sticky and tacky nature, however, it’s not wax at all! Earwax is a combination of skin cells, dirt, and fluids released from glands within the inner ear. The scientific name is cerumen and it is filled with the dead skin cells from the inner ear which are constantly renewing themselves. The skin cells are lubricated using secretions from two glands called the ceruminous and the sebaceous glands. The ceruminous gland produces sweat, just outside the auditory canal and the sebaceous glands, which excrete oil to lubricate the skin. Ultimately the combination includes fatty acids, squalene, alcohol, and cholesterol. When combined with the skin cells we have cerumen.
What’s the Point of Earwax Anyway?
Earwax may gross you and many other people out, but it actually plays an important role in the health of your ears. It acts as a proteant to the auditory canal. Even a small laceration within your fragile auditory canal could lead to earaches or infection. However, cerumen is antimicrobial, preventing infections from causing big problems in the future.
There are A Few Different Kinds of Earwax
Did you know that not all earwax is the same? There are at least two different classifications which are wet or dry earwax. The type of earwax you have is dependent on genetics such as hair color or texture. Genetics from East Asia such as China, Korea, or interestingly Native Americans, seem to have dry earwax, while genetics originating from Europe and Africa usually have wet earwax. Anthropologists around the world have been able to use earwax to track the migration of cultures around the world.
Earwax is a Self-Cleaning Solution for the Ears
The antimicrobial properties of earwax help prevent infections and lubricate the ear, but cerumen plays another important function. During the day dirt and debris can collect in the ears. If you are in a dusty room or end up covered in dirt somehow, there is no doubt that dirt will enter the ear canal as well. An amazing function of earwax is that it acts as a conveyor belt, moving dirt out of the ear canal, where it could cause blockages and hearing issues. It’s the movement of the jaw which helps loosen cerumen from the inner ear and collects around the outer ear.
It’s Important to Have Just the Right Amount of Cerumen
Sometimes the ear will feel dry. This can often be caused by excessive cleaning and not enough earwax to lubricate the ear canal. However, it is just as possible to have too much earwax. When earwax becomes impacted into the ear canal, it can cause impaction of the ears and impair hearing.
It’s Possible to Clean Earwax Out Safely
A blockage is often caused by earwax being pushed back into the ear canal while cleaning with a cotton swab. The impairment can usually be cleared by removing the blockage, but this is why we recommend never sticking a cotton swab or other foreign object into the ear. Because the ears are self-cleaning, the majority of earwax will be sent to the outer ear. During a warm shower, you can wipe it away from the outer ear using a warm washcloth. If impaction of earwax has formed, often it can be cleared by putting a drop of olive oil into the canal to loosen it.
Not All Hearing Loss is Due to Earwax
There are all sorts of causes of hearing loss besides a blockage due to earwax. Some of these are irreversible. If you recognize that you are having an issue with your hearing it is important to take it seriously. Make an appointment with us today. We can find out the cause of your hearing issue and find the best solution for you.