Cerumen, the medical term for earwax, is a bodily excretion that is as mysterious as it is misunderstood. A lot of people seem to want to be rid of it, not fully understanding the health benefits that this seemingly "gross" excretory substance does for our bodies.
Though medical professionals and researchers don't fully understand why the ears produce earwax, the overall consensus is that it plays an integral part in keeping them healthy. Earwax has both protective and cleaning properties, and removing it unnecessarily might result into bigger ear problems later on.
What Is Earwax Exactly?
Cerumen (earwax) is a waxy substance naturally produced by the ears. Most of it is made out of dirt and dead skin cells mixed with the body's own oil and sweat.
Earwax is sticky. Its stickiness is among the top reasons why it is so beneficial and helpful to the body. The earwax in the ears acts as a sort of barrier for dirt and bacteria, preventing these nasties from making their way further into the ear canal.
Earwax is kind of smelly too. But don't take this as a negative thing. It is thought that earwax's natural smelliness keeps insects at bay, as the scent can repel bugs. And even if there are smaller ones that manage to venture into the ear, the earwax's stickiness would impede them from going further inside- pretty similar to how fly paper works.
Here's another fact about earwax that not a lot of people know of: it also acts as a moisturizer for the ear. It coats the ear canal and traps moisture. Without it, your ear would be excessively flaky and itchy, which would put it at greater risk of infection and irritation (from scratching).
Earwax Differs From Person To Person
Different bodies, different kinds of earwax. A person's diet, age, ethnicity, and environment drastically affects their earwax composition.
For example, dry cerumen are most commonly found among Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans; while wet cerumen appear more frequently among Africans and Caucasians.
The color of your earwax also tells a lot about the current status of your body.
If you have light-brown/orange to yellow earwax, then there's nothing to fear since your body is perfectly healthy. Children usually have softer and lighter-colored earwax, while adults have darker and harder ones. Sometimes, the dark color comes from the dirt and bacteria that the wax has managed to trap.
If you have dark-colored earwax tinged with a little bit of red, then you might have a bleeding injury inside your ear. Have it checked out with a doctor ASAP.
Too Much Earwax
The body naturally expels excess earwax as well as the dirt and debris that comes along with it. So, most of the time, there's really no need to remove earwax by yourself; if you're reasonably healthy and practice good hygiene, the excess earwax will sort itself out.
The excessive earwax of the kind that is already interfering with hearing is often the result of TOO much ear cleaning. It's actually kind of paradoxical how the more you remove earwax, the more that the body produces it. If you don't have good reason to rid your ears of earwax, then better leave it alone.
Other factors that can increase earwax production in the ear include stress (the sweat glands inside the ear are also the same glands that produce cerumen) and fear. People who have ear infections, have abnormally-shaped ears, ears that are naturally hairy, as well as those with skin conditions are also more apt to produce excess earwax.
How To Clean Your Ears
Too much of something good can be bad. If one or both of your ears are feeling stuffy (and you suspect that ear wax is the culprit), don't attempt to clean out your ear by yourself. Don't use a cotton swab, hair pin or any other object to remove the wax. Doing this can further push the wax into the ear canal and exacerbate the problem.
Don't even try ear candling. It's just pseudoscience and has no reported benefits. Plus, it also opens you up to the risk of burns and other serious injuries to your ears.
Washing the outside of your ears with warm water and soap will help keep them clean. You can also try using an over-the-counter ear cleaning kit if you have an excessive earwax problem. However, going to the doctor is still the best way to go if you run into problems with your ears.