Ear Wax Removal: To Clean or Not to Clean

July 29, 2014 8:15 am

Ear Wax Removal

This just in: your best efforts at hygiene could actually be harming your health. Although you may be dismissing your muffled hearing as nothing more than old age or too much loud music, you could actually be inflicting the damage on yourself. In an informative post you never thought you would need, we’ve compiled all the details on earwax:

Man cleaning out ear wax with q-tip

Earwax—ew, gross. What is it good for?

Before we get into how your earwax affects your ear, let’s talk about what it can tell you and your doctor. Aside from being a give-away about your hygiene habits, it can tell you a lot about your ancestors. For instance, some people may produce wet earwax, while others only produce dry wax. White, flakey wax can point to a lack of chemicals in your body that causes odors, while dark, sticky wax signals body odor. Scientists have discovered that Caucasians tend to have yellow, stinky earwax while those of East Asian or Native American descent have pale wax without odor.

The amount of wax you have in your ears can also be attributed to other factors in your life. If you have been suffering under high amounts of stress, for example, you’re more likely to have a lot of smelly earwax buildup than someone who isn’t worried.

Don’t worry; your earwax serves a higher purpose than merely talking about genetics. Although the verdict is out on the exact job of earwax, one thing is for certain: it’s necessary for your ears. Although you may think you have your best interests in mind when you use a cotton swab to clean your ears after a shower, you may actually be doing more harm than good.

Earwax is good for you.

As the American Academy of Otolaryngology explains, earwax serves several beneficial functions. Also known as cerumen, earwax serves as a self-cleaning agent to the ear, with lubricating, antibacterial, and protective properties. In this sense, you can think of earwax as tears for the ears—they keep the ear canal lubricated so it doesn’t get dry, irritated, and itchy.

The ear itself acts as a sort of conveyor belt, beginning with its formation at the last third of the ear canal near the opening. Earwax and skin cells are constantly migrating from the ear canal to the opening, thanks to jaw motion through chewing and yawning. Once the debris from your ear reaches your ear opening, it dries and flakes out.

Doctor examining ear of patient after ear wax removal.

In short: your ear cleans itself through earwax. Cleaning habits, such as using cotton swabs, actually push the ear wax into the ear. This can lead to wax build up within the ear, which can lead to everything from hearing problems to pain.

Ear Wax Removal: Yes or No?

In 2013, Jessica Simpson posted a video testing out the latest hygiene fad: ear candling. The process involves sticking a burning, hollow candle into your ear canal in an attempt to remove excess earwax. In addition to being incredibly dangerous, it’s inconclusive if the process works or not. Whatever the verdict, one thing is clear: you need your earwax.

To clean your ears, put down the candles and cotton swabs. Instead, try irrigating your ears with warm water, or warm salt water. The warm water will help to break up large pieces of wax that may be stuck on the outer rim of your ear, without pushing the blockage further into your canal. If you’re experiencing pain, muffled hearing, or discharge or tinnitus, you may want to have your doctor exam your ears for larger problems. If earwax doesn’t appear to be the cause of your hearing problems, or for more information on earwax and your hearing, contact us! We’d love to help.