It’s 8 p.m. on a Tuesday, and you are preparing for your pre-bedtime routine. Wash your face, brush your hair and your teeth, then grab a cotton swab to clean out your ears—but WAIT!
DROP THAT COTTON SWAB.
Believe it or not, that earwax that you feel obligated to obliterate actually has a purpose!
Here are 9 things you didn't know about your earwax:
1. EARWAX PROTECTS
Similar to eyelashes and nose hair, your earwax is a protective device that is often under-appreciated.
The primary purpose of earwax is to protect your ear canal and eardrum from foreign materials. These outside invaders include dust, bacteria, and other micro-organisms. Without earwax for extended periods of time, the ear canal would be more susceptible to infections that can irritate and inflame your ears.
The scientific name for earwax is cerumen.
This substance is a combination of skin cells that have fallen off from inside of the ear, bits of hair and secretions from the ceruminous glands in the outer ear canal.
Wondering what cerumen impaction is? Click here to find out.
Monell Research Center discovered that, like sweat, chemical compounds in earwax differ between races. There are two different types of earwax: wet and dry.
- Dry earwax is usually crumbly and lighter in color from tan to light grey. People that have North-Eastern Asian and Native American ancestry often have this type of earwax.
- Wet earwax is sticky and yellow to brown in color and can even have an odor. This earwax is normally found in people that are more likely to have European or African ancestry.
4. EARWAX LUBRICATES
Just like tears, earwax lubricates and therefore is beneficial to your ear canal. Without adequate amounts of earwax, your ears would be dry and itchy.
5. EARWAX SELF-CLEAN
Your earwax actually cleans up after itself!
Whenever you chew or move your jaw, you help keep your earwax churning slowly from the eardrum to the ear opening where it will either dry up, flake off, or fall out at its own pace. See what the Cleveland Clinic has to say about it here.
As I said earlier, do NOT use a cotton swab to clean out your ears. Since your ears have the ability to self-clean, you should NEVER try to stick anything into them. Therefore, keep these swabs and any other objects—which include your fingers—out of your ears.
Every time you put something inside of your ear, either to scratch an itch or attempt to remove earwax, you actually risk pushing the wax further into your ear where it can become blocked- causing earwax impaction!!
If cotton swabs are bad for your ears, does burning a candle inside of your ear sound like a better solution?
During ear candling, a person will lay on their side while a long cone-shaped candle is nestled just inside of their ear canal. The candle is then lit in an attempt to soften and suction out the earwax.
The FDA warns that ear candling has no proven benefits. But it is proven that these candles can cause burns, wax blockage, and punctured eardrums.
8. EARWAX AFFECTS YOUR HEARING
Every time you shove a cotton swab, earplugs, music earbuds, and hearing aids into your ear, you risk pushing the earwax further and further into the ear canal. These items that are regularly placed into the ear can actually increase earwax buildup because they inhibit the natural migration of earwax to move out of the ear canal.
Blocked earwax is the most common cause of hearing loss!
This can happen when the wax is pushed back toward the eardrum or if the ears produce more wax than needed.
9. STRESS AND ANXIETY AFFECTS YOUR EARS
Stress or anxiety can actually increase your earwax production. The glands in the ear that assist secreting wax are a class of glands called the apocrine glands. These glands are the same glands that are responsible for your smelliest sweat!
Just like how stress can make you sweat more (and smell worse), stress and other emotional responses (like fear) can also increase your earwax production.