What do you do with earwax?

Earwax, also known as cerumen in the medical tracks, is part of the natural defenses of our bodies. Secreted by glands in our ear canals, it purifies and protects by trapping dirt and dust that invades and prevents bacteria from developing.

Older cerumen finds its way out of the ear, where it falls out or washes away, taking germs and other foreign particles with it and making room for the fresh wax that has been produced, thanks in part to the motions of chewing and talking.

Normally, proper wax management boils down to letting this process happen naturally. If wax is visible on your outer ear, you can gently clean it with a cloth.

However, you shouldn’t try to remove it from the inside. Don’t be tempted by cotton swabs, since “putting anything in the ear risks, at best, pushing the wax back in or, at worst, damaging delicate skin,” says Dr Shakeel Saeed, a professor of otology and neuro-otology. You could even perforate your eardrum.

Wax can block your ear canal if the glands in your ears produce excessive quantities, if your body is unable to effectively clear it out, or if you jam it in during a misguided attempt at cleaning. Blockage symptoms may include earache, tinnitus, decreased hearing, dizziness, or even coughing, as the build-up may push against nerves and trigger cough reflexes.

But, it may not be cerumen that’s causing your symptoms. It could be an infection, age-related hearing loss, an injury from pressure changes, or one of many other problems. Check with your GP, who may recommend using earwax softening drops.

1. It’s unnecessary
The ear cleanse itself. Any maintenance is expected on routine. Whether you have swabs put into your ears to extract earwax or keep it from building up, think again. Earwax is produced in the ear canal, and migrates naturally from deeper inside to outside. Of course there are exceptions. Some people make more than the average amount of earwax and it gets harder and drier for others (especially older adults) than usual. Even in these cases it’s not the solution to put a swab inside the ear. More about that in a moment.

2. It may be harmful
Inserting a cotton tipped swab (or something else) into the ear may damage the ear canal or eardrum, or drive earwax deeper into the tube, making removal more difficult. This can lead to a feeling of pressure in the ear and decreased hearing. Much worse, earwax clumps pushed down near the eardrum can cause painful infections in the ears.

3. Earwax is not a sign of poor hygiene
There seems to be a certain confusion here. Of various purposes, Earwax-the scientific word is “cerumen”-is there. Cerumen is a natural moisturizer, inter alia, which prevents the skin within the ear from being too dry.

Dirt and dust traps before they reach deep into the channel absorb dead skin cells and debris prevents bacteria and other infectious organisms from reaching the inner ear.
Others may make more earwax, while others do less. Earwax composition varies by race , sex, weather and even diet. While there seems to be some “ick” factor associated with earwax, this is not a reflection of uncleanliness; in fact, it is a sign of natural, safe ears.

Check out my related post: Why do we shake hands?

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