October 11, 2022
Often patients tell us they think their ears are dirty. By “dirty” then mean having ear wax in the canal. We may clear the wax if it is excessive, but we always remind patients their ears are not actually dirty. It is easy to understand why one would confuse a natural bodily secretion with uncleanliness. Ear wax is not the most pleasant substance, but it is normal and necessary for the ears to produce it in the canals. Why do some ears produce more than others? Is excessive wax normal?
Cerumen, or ear wax, is a combination of secretions from glands in the skin of the ear canal. It is produced near the outer end of the canal. It begins as a watery fluid that lines the skin. In many people it never accumulates. It exits the canal during bathing or evaporates, leaving a trace of the waxy portion of the secretion. This may eventually crumble out of the ear during chewing or other jaw movement. Older wax appears darker in color and drier.
Typically, people whose ancestors are from Europe or Africa produce wetter, darker wax, whereas Asians may produce dry, crumbly or flaky, light-colored wax. Some ears produce more than others, and some “collect” wax more than others. No matter what the consistency, color or amount, earwax provides protection from infections and insects, and it lubricates the skin. It is not a problem until it interferes with hearing. This is when we will clear it from the canal in the office.
All we ask is that you have it checked by a professional if you believe you have too much ear wax. We will clear it if it interferes with hearing or hearing aid function. As always, we wish to keep you on a clear path to good hearing and ear health.