While most people won’t ever have to clean their ears, many people will have to deal with earwax buildup at some point in their lives. But despite earwax buildup being a relatively common problem, there are many misconceptions about precisely what earwax is, where it comes from and what its purpose is.
Why does the body produce earwax?
Earwax, or cerumen, to give it its proper name, is produced by the body as a lubricant and antibacterial. It protects the inner ear by preventing bacterial infections and moisturising the skin within the ear canal. Earwax contains dead hair and skin cells, but it is not entirely comprised of these substances as some think.
How can earwax buildup cause health problems?
While the presence of earwax in the ear canal is beneficial, it can cause problems if it becomes impacted. Earwax becomes impacted when it builds up instead of being expelled as it should be. Usually, ear wax moves through the ear canal due to natural jaw motions, mainly chewing. The skin inside your ear also grows from the inside out, flaking when it reaches the outside and carrying earwax out as it moves.
Earwax isn’t produced deep within the ear canal as some people think. Instead, it is produced in the outer part of the ear canal. However, people can easily push ear wax deeper into their ears inadvertently. For example, people who spend a lot of time wearing in-ear headphones are more likely to have trouble with earwax buildup.
If earwax builds up and becomes compacted, it can block most or all of the ear canal. The most prominent symptom of an earwax blockage is hearing loss, but it can also cause aches and pains as well.
How to treat earwax buildup
The most common cause of earwax blockages is people inserting cotton buds and other items into their ears to clean them out. However, your ears are one of the few body parts designed to clean themselves. Needless to say, inserting anything into your ear is a bad idea, and you can’t clear out an earwax blockage using cotton buds or other utensils. The safest and most effective way of clearing ear wax buildup is to ask a doctor or trained clinician to do it for you. There are several tools they can use to do this, including ear microsuction.
Earwax production is entirely natural and helps to keep our ears and ear canals healthy. However, many people assume earwax is bad because of its reputation for causing blockages. Understanding what earwax is and why it can cause issues can help avoid potential problems.