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Why Do We Have Ear Wax?

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

a woman using cotton buds


Ear wax is a natural substance produced in the ear and is made up of a mixture of bodily secretions, dead skin called keratin, and oils. It is usually yellowish-brown in colour and is soft and pliable. While most people consider it a nuisance, It actually serves a number of important purposes in the body which protect the ear from damage.

What is wax?

It is a combination of numerous biological components made in the ear. The dead skin of the entire ear canal sheds and is pulled outward and toward the ear opening by the new skin that develops in its stead. The dead skin is then combined with the oils and sweat produced in the ear canal. Cerumen, produced by a special gland, is mixed with wax in the final third of the ear canal and gives wax its distinct colour and texture. The wax typically has a soft, wet quality at this point and gently slides out of the ear on its own. Click hear to learn more...

What does wax do?

Ear wax serves a number of important purposes for ear health. These include:

  • Protection of the ear canal: Ear wax helps to shield the delicate skin of the ear canal from debris, bacteria, and other foreign items. The skin of the inner ear canal is just 0.5mm thin.

  • Lubrication and cleaning of the ear: Because ear wax has a tiny oil content, it serves to lubricate the ear canal and keep it from becoming dry and irritating. Deeper in the ear canal, the sebaceous glands create a wax that is more liquid in consistency, lubricating the ear canal.

  • Prevention of infection: Ear wax contains a tiny number of immune cells called macrophages that can aid in infection defense.

  • Self-cleaning: Talking and chewing cause jaw motions that cause ear wax to be continuously pushed out of the ear canal. The ear canal is kept clear and clean thanks to this technique.

Why does ear wax block your ears?

There are a number of reasons why ear wax can build up in the ear canal:

  • Genetics: Some people simply produce more ear wax than others, which can lead to a build-up over time.

  • The eardrum is protected by two bends in the ear canal. Some people have ear canals that are tilted in a way that makes it difficult for the wax to come out of the ear.

  • The ear canal contains cilia, which are tiny hairs that help move wax toward the ear entrance. Occasionally, these hairs may break or become brittle, which can make it more challenging for the wax to be naturally removed. Men's hair can become quite thick in the outer ear canal, close to the ear itself, and act as a physical barrier to the wax that is coming out. Regular hair clipping can help prevent this, but it's vital that the hairs don't fall back in to the ear canal as when wax mixes with loose hair it creates a very stubborn consistency.

  • While ear drops can often help keep wax lubricated-helping it come out of the ear-they can also expand the wax, which in some cases can be the difference between wax almost blocking the ear and completely blocking the ear. This is why people often feel using ear drops made their ears worse.

There are a number of methods for removing impacted wax. Over-the-counter ear drops are often the first choice and the basic idea is the drops help soften the wax and dislodge stubborn blockages. When this isn't enough, a technique of ear wax removal has to be used. There are a number of water irrigation tools that can be used to spray water into the ear in order for the returning water to bring with it wax on its way. There are some concerns and risks associated with this method, however. The best and safest way however is to use professional microsuction, which uses a small suction tool to gently remove the wax. Click hear to learn more...

To sum up...

Ear wax is natural and serves several important functions in maintaining good ear health. Unless a person experiences negative symptoms like pain and hearing loss, there is no reason to remove ear wax. Ear wax is self-cleaning, and will make its way out of the ear as long as a physical obstruction is not present.

Using olive aid drops once a week is a good practice as it helps keep the wax soft which increases the likelihood of the wax making its way out of the ear. One should never block the ears for extended periods of time. Over-the-ear headphones are therefore preferable instead of in-the-ear alternatives. For some people who need to wear hearing aids, an unfortunate consequence of this is that ear wax will build up more quickly. If ear wax impaction becomes a problem, it is best to have this removed at least once a year to stop it from becoming overly impacted and hard.

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