Six Things You Probably Didn't Know About Earwax
We know you probably don't want to give much thought to earwax: Whatsoever, but truth is, the gunk can actually tell you a fair amount about yourself — and not just in a personal hygiene kind of way.
While there's a lot even the pros don't know about earwax — like its exact purpose, for example — there are some theories and little-known factoids worth acknowledging, for your health's sake.
1. Earwax keeps your ears from itching. One of the practical sides of earwax is that it seems to lubricate the ears, according to Penn Medicine, the way that tears lubricate the eyes.
The wax may keep ears from feeling dry or itchy.
2. It also keeps them (relatively) clean. That waxy buildup is a sexy combo of those lubricating secretions, sloughed skin cells and dirt and dust trapped there while trying to enter your ear. But believe it or not, for the most part, it will clean itself out. Every movement of the lower jaw, whether it's talking or chewing, pushes the wax toward the outside world — no cotton swab required.
In fact, trying to clean earwax can do more harm than good, if the wax is pushed further into the ear canal rather than extracted. Most experts agree you should leave your earwax alone unless you're experiencing symptoms of too much earwax, which can include hearing changes, LiveScience reported.
3. Your earwax can tell you about your sweat. Some people produce wet earwax, while others stay dry. The white, flaky type probably means that you also lack a certain chemical in your sweat that leads to body odour.
Dark and sticky earwax, however, means you'll want to keep deodorant handy.
4. Earwax varies by race. That dry versus wet distinction may have something to do with your ancestors, according to a recent study. Monell Center researchers found that, like with sweat, chemical compounds in earwax differ between the races, and the molecules that produce an odour are generally higher in Caucasians than in East Asians.
5. Stress or fear can increase earwax production. The glands in the ear that help to secrete wax are a class of glands called the apocrine glands, which are also responsible for your smelliest sweat. Just like stress can make you sweat more (and smell worse), it (along with other strong emotional responses, like fear) can also up your earwax production, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
6. Ear candles are a big no-no. If we're going to swear off the cotton swabbing, let's also banish the idea that burning a candle in the ear will effectively and safely remove excess earwax. The FDA warns that not only can ear candles lead to burns, they may also block the ear canal or perforate the eardrum. If you're really concerned about cleaning out the buildup, let some warm water wash over and into your ears in the shower every so often, HuffPost Healthy Living's Laura Schocker reported in 2011. That's usually enough to warm and loosen even the most stubborn wax.
“If you have a persistent feeling of earwax in your canal, that could mean it’s blocked and needs to be cleaned out by your doctor,” Dr Tweel says. Contrary to popular belief, cotton swabs don’t actually clean your ears; instead, they push earwax further into the canal, which can lead to buildup, irritation, and even damage to hearing bones. Don’t use them to remove earwax!
What Does Your Earwax Say About Your Health?
There are one of two reasons why your earwax appears green and watery. First, if you’ve been sweating for any reason (e.g. exercise), it’s natural for the perspiration to make its way into the ear canal and mix with the wax, resulting in a watery, green discharge.
Earwax – Did You Know Its Color Can Say A Lot About Your Health?
This one is kind of cool, and it’s less about health than it is genetics (though the two aren’t always mutually exclusive.) In an article published in the journal Nature Genetics, researchers discovered that the consistency of our earwax can clue us in on our ancestry. More specifically, the climate (thereby, location) in which our ancestors lived.
Ear wax is a completely natural wax-like substance, secreted by special glands in the skin on the outer part of the ear canal. Earwax assists in repelling water and trapping small dirt and dust particles from entering your inner ear canal. When you think about it, it’s kind of weird how much the “gross stuff” our bodies produce can tell us about our health. A saliva sample can detect anaemia; faeces can pinpoint various types of cancer; urine can detect problems of the bladder, kidney and prostate…and so on. Turns out that our earwax can also tell us quite a bit. First, we’ll talk a bit about the stuff and why it’s there.
Then we’ll discuss what earwax tells us about our health. What is earwax? As its name implies, earwax is a yellow waxy secretion of the ear.
It is produced by the cerumen (Suh-roo-mun) glands underneath the skin of the external ear canal (the part located between the fleshy and middle parts of the ear). When most of us (including this writer) think of earwax, we just think of it as some nasty byproduct that needs a Q-tip once in a while. Actually, earwax is quite important. – It moisturizes and protects the skin. – It prevents dry, itchy ears; especially within the ear canal. – It contains chemicals that ward off potential ear infections. – It helps prevent damage to the eardrum by suppressing outside noise. – It traps dirt, dust and other foreign agents that enter the ear canal.
What Does Your Earwax Reveal About Your Health?
The colour and consistency of earwax (as with the other “gross stuff”) is important. As with pee, poop and spit, earwax should appear and feel a “certain” way. With that in mind, if your earwax looks like this…it may mean this…
1. It’s dry or sticky This one is kind of cool, and it’s less about health than it is genetics (though the two aren’t always mutually exclusive.) In an article published in the journal Nature Genetics, researchers discovered that the consistency of our earwax can clue us in on our ancestry. More specifically, the climate (thereby, location) in which our ancestors lived. The authors explain: “Human earwax consists of wet and dry types.
Dry earwax is frequent in East Asians, whereas wet earwax is common in other populations.” It all depends on the ABCC11 gene, which has a dry consistency. This gene increases according to geographic location, observed as a “north-south and east-west” downward trend. 2. It’s absent If you notice an almost complete lack of earwax, which is usually noticeable when trying to clean your inner ear, there’s probably not much to worry about.
However, if feelings of pain or stuffiness are present it could indicate a rare condition known as “keratitis obturates.” This condition basically causes a hard buildup of wax deep within the ear canal. As a precaution, it may be worth taking a trip to a family physician (FP) or an ear specialist – an otolaryngologist.
3. It’s leaking When debris accumulates within the ear canal, it will normally be discharged by natural mechanisms or cleaning of the ear canal. When this debris noticeably leaks from the ear, it may indicate an abnormal skin growth called “cholesteatoma.” Other symptoms of this condition include feelings of pain or pressure within the ear.
These symptoms are the result of a “cyst-like” growth creating pressure within the canal. It’s a good idea to see a specialist or FP in this case.
4. It’s scaling or flaky This is no big deal, really. As with many other glands, the cerumen loses moisture as it ages. As a result, our earwax will also scale or flake. Chalk it up to getting older.
5. It’s quite pungent Earwax that gives off a strong and nasty odour that may indicate either damage or infection in the middle part of the ear. The medical terminology for symptoms resulting from a damaged or infected middle ear is “otitis media.” Aside from some nasty smelling earwax, you may notice some other symptoms of (acute or chronic) otitis media, including fever, earache, fatigue and/or hearing loss.
Related article: These Two Ingredients Can Eliminate Earwax and Ear Infections The good news: most symptoms of acute otitis media will reside within a couple of days. However, it is advisable to seek medical attention if there is no noticeable sign of improvement.
6. It’s green and watery There are one of two reasons why your earwax appears green and watery. First, if you’ve been sweating for any reason (e.g. exercise), it’s natural for the perspiration to make its way into the ear canal and mix with the wax, resulting in a watery, green discharge. Or, you have an ear infection. Aside from a greenish tint, an ear infection may also produce a lovely dark yellow liquid mixture. Here’s another time when it’s probably a good idea to see the doc.
What Earwax Tells About Your Health
A tendency to (literally) pulls at your hair, brows, or lashes when you get stressed can signal a perfectionist personality, suggests a Canadian study in the Journal of Behavioral Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. The researchers explain it this way: When you don't meet your own impossibly high standards, hair pulling can be a way of alleviating frustration and dissatisfaction. But this coping tactic goes a little deeper than run-of-the-mill perfectionism—it's a compulsive disorder known as trichotillomania, and if you've got it, cognitive behavioural therapy (learning a less overwhelming way to organize your workflow and deal with frustration) may help.