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What Is Earwax For?

Have you ever wondered why we have earwax? How much earwax is considered too much? Here’s a short article about it.

Earwax is naturally produced by the body. Also known as cerumen, earwax is a sticky, shiny substance that helps protect and clean the ears. It is produced by the wax glands, which are situated in the outer area of the ear canal.

Did you know around 20 percent to 50 percent of earwax consists of fat? In addition to its protection and cleaning attributes, earwax moisturizes the ear canal and fights off dirt, dust, infection and debris that get inside the ears.

Too little earwax can lead to dryness and itching, making the ears prone to infection. On the other hand, too much of it accumulating in the ear canal can lead to these symptoms:

  • Sensation of fullness in the ear, like something is plugged into it
  • Loss of hearing
  • Ear pain or discomfort
  • Ringing in the ears, or tinnitus
  • Ear infection or itching
  • Odor or discharge coming from the affected ear(s)

Ideally, once it has served its purpose of protecting, moisturizing and cleaning the ears, earwax will make its way to the ear’s opening, where it will dry up and just fall off. However, there are people who produce earwax excessively, causing its accumulation in the ear canal and triggering the unwanted symptoms mentioned above.

As a common practice, people would probe their ear canals using hair pins or cotton swabs to remove the earwax. But if done incorrectly, that could push the earwax deeper into the canal and cause an obstruction to the eardrum. There is also the possibility of causing irritation.

To safely clean your ears and remove the earwax, simply use a cloth to wipe the fleshy external, exposed areas of your ear. Do not put anything into the ear canal. As much as possible, never use cotton swabs or similar probing objects for cleaning your ears. Perhaps you can use baby oil or ear cleaning drops, which can help soften the accumulated earwax.

If you feel you have too much earwax and it is affecting your ability to hear, get in touch with your ENT physician.

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