Earwax is a waxy substance produced by the sebaceous glands in the ear canal. It is a normal substance produced by the ear that plays an important role in protecting the ear from infections, dust and debris and also assists in cleaning and lubrication.
Earwax contains alcohols, squalene, cholesterol and long-chain fatty acids (saturated and unsaturated). It can also contain dead skin cells and hair. Earwax varies in appearance and colour from person to person, and it possesses some characteristics that may give you insights into your health.
Below are 10 things your earwax can potentially indicate:
10 Things Your Earwax Says About Your Health
Earwax is of different colours, and each colour depicts a different meaning. A yellow earwax ensures everything is going well in the ear and is the most common, indicating that everything is going well with you. Brown earwax indicates that your earwax is old and needs to be removed. It reminds you about your ear cleaning.
Unusual earwax colours, such as red, black, or white, may indicate an underlying condition or an infection.
Normal earwax is usually soft and easy to clean, though some people have earwax that is harder and dry in texture. Impacted or hard earwax can lead to discomfort, a sensation of fullness in the ear, or temporary hearing loss. It can also increase the risk of ear infections.
If you experience these symptoms, don’t try to remove it yourself. Instead, go to a specialist for ear wax removal. A flaky earwax is a tiny bit of dry skin in your ear, which can mean you’re not producing enough earwax.
Strong earwax odour
Normal earwax has a mild odour, but if the smell is noticeable and strong, it could indicate an issue in the inner ear. An example is cholesteatoma, an abnormal collection of skin cells deep inside the ear that causes discharge from the ear. Strong earwax odour indicates an infection or an underlying condition.
Once you start itching inside your ear and you feel like you can notice your earwax even when you’re not touching your ears, it could mean you have a blockage. Blockages are dangerous because they can temporarily lead to hearing loss and may also lead to irreversible deafness.
Flaky earwax does not mean sickness. It could be a sign of aging. Sebaceous and apocrine glands in the ears shrink and become drier with age. Flaky earwax can also indicate eczema, which can cause a buildup of dead skin cells in the ears. A painful flaky earwax may also be a symptom of psoriasis.
Watery earwax is a sign of excess sweat in the ears, which you don’t have to worry about. But if you notice that earwax comes out onto your pillow at night or leaves crusty residue in your ear, you may need to see a doctor because the eardrum might have been torn or ruptured.
Earwax accompanied by pain, swelling, or discharge may indicate an ear infection. Otitis externa is an infection of the outer ear canal. It can cause inflammation and increased production of earwax. Otitis media refers to an infection of the middle ear and can also result in changes in earwax appearance.
Bacteria or viruses commonly cause these infections and they require medical evaluation and treatment.
The properties of an individual earwax can indicate the presence of foreign objects in the ear. An unusual discharge, discomfort, or sudden changes in earwax appearance could signify a foreign body inside the ear. The common foreign object includes small insects or cotton swab fibres. It is important to stop inserting objects into the ear to avoid pushing the foreign object further or causing injury.
Earwax buildup in the ear can obstruct the ear canal, leading to various symptoms, including hearing loss, earache, tinnitus, fullness or pressure, and dizziness. Earwax blockage is a common problem when wax accumulates and hardens in the ear canal. It can be more prevalent in individuals who produce excess or dried earwax.
Earwax blockage can happen to anyone, both children and adults have it. And it is more likely to occur in people who:
- Have a lot of ear hair
- Use hearing aids, earbuds or earplugs
- Have eczema
- Are over 55 years old.
- Routinely use cotton swabs to clean their ears.
Excessive itching or a rash around the ear can be associated with allergies. Allergic reactions can increase earwax production as the body’s immune system responds to the allergens. See a doctor if you suspect allergies are causing discomfort or changes in earwax production.
The Best Earwax Removal Methods
Use of ear drops
If your earwax is small, get an ear drop containing hydrogen peroxide or other peroxide. The peroxide helps in breaking up the earwax for easy earwax removal.
Lay sideways, ensure the ear you’re cleaning faces up and add the drops. Allow the solution to stay in your ear for around five minutes, and sit up, and the solution will come out along with the earwax that broke loose. Have a tissue ready to clean it.
Use of mineral or olive oil
Mineral and olive oil help to lubricate the ear canal. Using olive oil before getting a cleaning makes the earwax removal process easier.
Earwax Removal Methods to Avoid
The use of cotton swabs
A cotton swab or cotton bud pushes the earwax in deeper. The more you use it, the more earwax you push in. You may even rupture your eardrum if you push too far.
Earwax removal candles
It would help if you stayed away from this method, these candles don’t work, and they may burn you.
Earwax characteristics vary greatly among individuals and can be influenced by different factors such as genetics, hygiene practices, and underlying medical conditions. Your earwax can provide some indications about your health, but it is crucial to approach these observations cautiously.
If you have concerns about your earwax or experience any related symptoms, it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.