The Truth About Earwax (and what you can do about it)

Earwax is one of those things we all have, but no one likes to think about. It's seen as gross and unpleasant, but it is actually a vital substance for our ears. But too much earwax may lead to problems.

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The Truth About Earwax (and what you can do about it)

Earwax is one of those things we all have, but no one likes to think about. It's seen as gross and unpleasant, but it is actually a vital substance for our ears. 

Earwax comes in two primary forms: dry and wet. 

Your earwax is a lighter color and softer texture when you are young. A standard color would be light brown, orange, or yellow for children. For adults, an average color would be a darker brown, and its texture will be harder than that of children. Our earwax darkens as we age because it picks up dirt, debris, and bacteria. Earwax production varies from person to person and is located in the apocrine glands, producing sweat. If you experience stress or fear regularly, your earwax production may be higher. Generally speaking, people with a lot of hair in their ear canals, people who experience chronic ear infections, and people with malformed ear canals tend to produce more earwax. Older people may produce more earwax as well. 

Benefits of Earwax

The primary role of earwax is to protect the skin of the ear canal. 

It acts as a protective layer, trapping dust and other small particles that could make their way deep inside the ear where they could cause damage. Earwax also has antibacterial properties that can prevent infection. A waxy buildup in the ear can help prevent water from getting in there, which reduces the risk of ear infections. 

Earwax's stickiness and smell both are essential properties. The stickiness traps dirt and debris from entering the sensitive environment of your inner ear in the same way that flypaper catches flies. And speaking of insects, the smell of earwax is a natural repellent against insects, which keeps them from wandering inside your ear canals. Earwax also acts as a moisturizer for the outer ear, ensuring it does not get dry and itchy. Dry, itchy ears could lead to flakiness, which could lead to infection, which may affect your hearing in the long term. 

When earwax becomes a problem

Why does earwax receive such a bad rap if it is so beneficial? It could be because earwax blockage is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. Surprisingly, this hearing loss is frequently the outcome of at-home ear wax removal attempts. Ear wax can be pushed deeper into the ear and is placed into the ear, even if the aim is to clean it. 

Here are some signs of impacted earwax:

  • Pain or pressure in the ear
  • The sense that the ear is blocked
  • Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears
  • An odor or discharge
  • Sound appears muffled
  • Temporary hearing loss

If untreated, the accompanying hearing loss worsens over time.

How to remove earwax at home

Earwax is an integral part of your auditory process and is crucial to healthy hearing. If you lead a reasonably active life and keep a moderately healthy diet, it removes itself from your ears without any help needed. When you eat or speak, the movement of your jaw helps to loosen and expel earwax. 

If you want to clean your ears in the event of a small buildup of earwax, there's no need to get deep into your ear canal. Here are some tips:

A warm soapy washcloth is a gentle way to wash your ears. This can help prevent excessive earwax buildup if done regularly. Allowing warm water to run into your ears the next time you're in the shower can also aid in the removal of excess earwax.

If you need to undertake a more thorough cleaning at home, over-the-counter ear cleaning kits are also available at pharmacies. Make sure you read the guidelines. Most importantly, ensure that your ears are healthy and free of eardrum perforations. If you wear hearing aids, ensure all tubes and other device parts are removed from your ears. 

Do not use cotton swabs or anything sharp in your ears to remove earwax. You could potentially damage your eardrum and injure your ear canals. 

Also, avoid ear candling. This procedure has been demonstrated to be ineffective. Furthermore, there is no proof that it removes earwax! Ear candling can result in severe burns, wax blockages, pierced eardrums, and other mild to severe injuries.


Do you have too much earwax?

Too much earwax may lead to conductive hearing loss, a form of hearing loss in your outer or middle ear. Our Audiologist, Marni Novick, can take a look to see if that's the issue. 

Contact us at Silicon Valley Hearing if you believe your earwax production is interfering with your hearing. We have several ways to remove impacted earwax, including microsuction, curettes, and irrigation.

Contact us today to set up an appointment. 

Marni Novick, Audiologist in Los Gatos, CA

Dr. Marni Novick

Founder & Audiologist

Marni Novick, AuD, is founder of Silicon Valley Hearing, Inc., which opened its doors in 2014, with the promise of delivering honest and affordable hearing health care, along with exceptional customer service to her valued patients.

About Dr. Novick

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