Earwax, also known as cerumen, is a waxy oil produced by glands in the ear canal that then makes its way to the opening of the ear. It is made up of skin cells, sebum, sweat and dirt. This sticky, and sometimes smelly, substance can seem kind of gross, but it’s actually good for your ear health. Earwax helps protect our ears and aids in keeping them clean.
Along with the little hairs in our ears, earwax traps dirt and other particles that can damage the deeper parts of our ears, like our eardrums. You can, however, sometimes have too little or too much of this good stuff. When you don’t have enough, you will experience itchy ears, but when you have too much you can have an earache, temporary hearing loss, an infection or a ringing in your ears – called tinnitus.
Active Hearing Health is an ear specialist located in West Omaha. We wanted to give you some facts on earwax and help you know what to do if it’s causing you any issues.
Why do we have earwax?
There are two different types of earwax, dry and wet. The type you have depends on genetics. Wet earwax is common among Caucasian and African people, and it is colored dark yellow and sticky. East Asian and Native American earwax is typically light in color and is dry and flaky. Your earwax can change color and consistency depending on the environment you’re in and your diet. Fun fact: anthropologists can use earwax to track the migration of different cultures around the world.
Our ears have delicate skin. Earwax is needed to protect our inner ear, as well as keep too much water from entering our ears while showering or swimming. It’s important to know that earwax is natural and helpful. It helps keep our ears moisturized so they don’t get dry and itchy. It also functions as an antimicrobial, which helps prevent bacterial infections.
The stickiness keeps dirt and other tiny particles from getting deep into your ear, similar to sticky traps used in plants to catch gnats. Speaking of bugs, the smell of earwax is something that bugs don’t like. So next time you’re sitting outside and you think a bug flew into your ear, remember it’s unlikely (though it can still happen on rare occasions).
Cleaning your ears and preventing hearing loss
Wax blockage is a common cause of hearing loss. When it builds up and blocks the ear canal, you may experience a sensation that your ear is plugged, tinnitus – ringing in your ear, pain and even temporary deafness in that ear. An ear specialist can properly diagnose and clean your ears.
It’s important to not stick anything, especially cotton swabs, into your ear. Doing this can push the earwax deeper into your ear, blocking the ear canal. There are some home remedies such as using baby oil, OTC ear drops and mineral oil that can help, but it’s necessary to seek professional help when needed.
When to visit an ear specialist
If your symptoms become drainage from the air, a fever or hearing loss, it’s especially important to seek professional help. Our team in Omaha, Neb, is more than happy to assist! We know how vital it is to have healthy hearing. Contact us today with any questions or concerns, and schedule an appointment if you’d like to be seen.