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10 things you never knew about ear wax

Man cleaning ears
Ear drops can help loosen ear wax, meaning you can remove it easily.

When was the last time you gave more than a passing thought to that waxy, yellow goo that sporadically comes out of your ears? Probably a while ago?

Earwax is one of those things that most of us pay little attention to – until we experience an ear infection or blockage – so here are some interesting ear wax facts you may never have taken the time to learn.

Earwax has another name

Earwax also goes by its correct medical term, cerumen.

Earwax is not actually wax

It gets its name from its waxy, sticky texture - but earwax is not a wax. The exact recipe for earwax requires a good dose of sebum (a body secretion made up mostly of fat), skin cells, sweat and dirt.

Earwax is pretty important stuff…

Earwax is produced by the ear to clean and protect itself. It’s secreted by glands in the skin that line the outer half of your ear canals. The wax and tiny hairs in these passages trap dust and other foreign particles that could damage deeper structures, such as your eardrum.

….but you can have too much of a good thing

While people with too little earwax are likely to experience itchy ears that are more prone to infection, an ear canal blocked up with earwax can cause earaches, mild deafness, a sensation of fullness in the ear, tinnitus, infections and other problems.

Your earwax says a lot about you

There are actually two kinds of earwax – wet and dry. Wet earwax is more common among Caucasian and African people and is typically dark yellow and sticky. For those with East Asian or Native American ancestry, ear wax is typically light in colour, dry and flaky.

Your earwax can change colour

The consistency of your earwax will vary depending on your environment and diet. You may get darker wax if you work in a dirty environment. Wax that’s been in your ear longer will generally be darker because it’s trapped more dirt.

You should never stick ANYTHING into your ears

It’s not recommended to stick anything in your ears to remove ear wax. Not only is it dangerous to stick cotton buds, paper clips, bobby pins or anything else sharp into your ears – but it can also make problems with wax build up a lot worse as you push the wax further into your ear canals.

Earwax is a common cause of hearing problems

Earwax can create problems for our hearing when it starts to build up in our ears, a process known as impaction.

The symptoms of impacted earwax are hearing loss, earache, sense of ear fullness, itchiness in the ear, dizziness, ringing in the ear and a cough.

Woman experiencing hearing loss

How to properly clean your inner ears

You don’t actually need to clean your inner ears. Ears are self-cleaning and earwax should work its way out of your ear naturally in time where you can clean it with a damp cloth.

If you do get a build up of ear wax that’s causing you problems, visit your GP to have it removed. You can also get drops to loosen ear wax at the pharmacy. Generally, you’ll apply these drops twice a week to loosen ear wax, before removing it from your outer ear with a cloth – but follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Stay away from ear candles

Ear candles are marketed as a solution to removing wax from ear canals, but they often do more harm than good. Unsurprisingly, for something that involves lighting a flame near your head, they’ve been known to cause burns to the face, outer ear, eardrum and inner ear. . They can also make build-ups of ear wax worse and are not recommended.

Last updated: 8 March 2019