Why is earwax good for you? It protects your hearing. You don’t want to eliminate earwax, but you do want to keep it from blocking your ears. Here’s why.
Given its gooey or flaky texture and brownish color, earwax should be removed regularly. Or should it?
Why earwax is good for you
Earwax, or cerumen, is actually produced to protect hearing. It naturally cleans and protects your ears. The wax collects dust and other debris, preventing them from getting farther into your ear, according to an updated clinical guideline from the American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery Foundation.
Too little ear wax increases the risk of infection. At least 10 antimicrobial peptides are present in earwax that prevent bacteria and fungi from growing. It also keeps your ears dry.
"There is an inclination for people to want to clean their ears because they believe earwax is an indication of uncleanliness. This misinformation leads to unsafe ear health habits," said. Seth Schwartz, MD, chairman of the guideline update group.
What is earwax made of?
Earwax is formed from wax glands in the external ear canal. Different individuals vary considerably in the amount and consistency of their ear wax.
There are two types, wet and dry, which are inherited. Dry wax is common in Asia, while wet is common in Western Europe.
Ear wax generally regulates itself, meaning that it will slough off as needed, and new earwax will grow in. It can become impacted, however, for a variety of reasons, including overgrowth and small ear canals., But most often impaction occurs when you use an object like a cotton swab to try to clear it out, which can push it further into the ear.
Some people seem to produce more wax, while others remain “wax free” with little maintenance.
"Patients often think that they are preventing earwax from building up by cleaning out their ears with cotton swabs, paper clips, ear candles, or any number of unimaginable things that people put in their ears," Schwartz said. "The problem is that this effort to eliminate earwax is only creating further issues because the earwax is just getting pushed down and impacted farther into the ear canal," he explained.
Anything that fits into the ear could cause serious damage to the ear drum and canal, with the potential for temporary or even permanent damage, Schwartz adds.
Excessive cleaning may actually irritate the ear canal, cause infection, and even increase the chances of wax build up.
You should never over clean your ears, which may irritate the ear canal and cause infection, the guidelines say. The guidelines add that you shouldn't put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear.
“Your mother was right,” the guidelines add. “Cotton swabs, hair pins, car keys, toothpicks… these can all injure your ear and may cause a laceration (cut) in the ear canal, a perforation (hole) in the eardrum, or dislocation of the hearing bones, leading to hearing loss, dizziness, ringing, and other symptoms of ear injury.”
How to get earwax out
Ask your doctor about ways that you can treat your earwax impaction at home. You may have certain medical or ear conditions that may make some options unsafe.
The best way to remove earwax on your own is to wash the outside of your ear with a cloth, but don’t insert anything into your ear.
You can try placing a few drops of mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin, or commercial earwax removal drops in your ear. Hydrogen peroxide may also help. Let the drops sit in your ear for a while, then run your ear under the shower.
Seek medical evaluation if you have symptoms of hearing loss, ear fullness, and ear pain if you are not certain that they are from earwax.
Finally, do seek medical attention with ear pain, drainage, or bleeding. These are not symptoms of cerumen impaction and need further evaluation.
March 20, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN