Five things you should know about earwax
Posted by Roger LaRose, M.A., Director of Audiology Services on February 03, 2021
When you hear the word “earwax”, you might immediately think YUCK! But, did you know that earwax actually plays an important role in the health of your ear? I’d like to share some facts about earwax and the part it plays in a healthy ear.
1. Earwax is not YUCK at all
In fact, earwax is a requirement of a healthy ear canal. It is a product of two glands that are in the ear canal: sweat glands (known as “apocrine sweat glands”) and cerumen glands (known as “sebaceous glands”). Without earwax, ear canals would be dry and itchy. As a result, the ear canals would be more susceptible to scrapes and cuts from scratching.
2. The ear is designed to naturally rid itself of earwax
The skin cells in the ear canal are “migratory” skin cells. New skin cells in the ear canal are formed near the ear drum and then tend to work their way outward over time, carrying earwax and debris with them. These are called “migratory cells” because they migrate their way from inside the ear canal to outside the ear canal.
3. Earwax problems are less common than you think
Thanks to the migratory process of the ear canal, a true “earwax problem” is not as common as you might think. In fact, those who are most at risk for impacted earwax are (1) elderly people (2) hearing aid users (3) those who use cotton swabs. Rarely will a person who doesn’t fall into one of these categories experience ear canal blockage due to excess earwax.
4. Cotton swabs should NOT be used to clean your ears
Speaking of cotton swabs, PLEASE DON’T USE THEM FOR EARWAX REMOVAL! What you are actually doing — instead of removing earwax — is wiping away wax in the outer 1/3 of the ear canal and pushing any remaining wax deeper into the ear canal. The most safe, effective way to remove problem cerumen is to visit a physician or hearing healthcare professional who can see into your ear canal then determine the best way to remove the earwax, if needed. Otherwise, simple hygiene practices, such as wiping the surface of the ear canal with a cloth while showering, should be sufficient to keep earwax from causing a problem.
5. Excessive earwax can be mistaken for hearing loss
Hearing loss is often blamed on earwax, but the actual problem is with the inner ear. Thousands of people who think they are experiencing hearing loss due to wax build-up are seen annually by hearing healthcare professionals when the true problem is hearing loss.
If you have ANY questions or concerns about the health of your ear or your hearing, the best course of action is to consult a physician and/or a hearing healthcare professional.