How Does Ear Wax Protect Our Ear Canal?
You might find earwax a little unpleasant, but it still serves a vital role in the human body. It cleans and protects the ear from dirt, bacteria and fungi, allowing your ears to continue to function normally. Too much earwax can cause problems, but most of the time, the ear knows exactly how much it needs to produce.
What exactly is earwax?
Earwax appears to have a fairly self-explanatory name. It is a waxy substance that is found in the ear. The proper medical term is cerumen. Everyone has - or should have - earwax, as it plays an essential role in keeping the ear clean and protected, though the amount, texture and color may vary between people. That color may be brown, more yellowish, red, orange or even grey.
You produce earwax in the outer part of your ear canal. There are two glands there called the ceruminous and sebaceous glands. Their secretions mix with dead skin cells and hair to form earwax, which contains a mix of fatty acids, cholesterol, alcohols and a compound called squalene. Earwax can be defined as wet or dry.
The difference between wet and dry earwax is genetic. Wet earwax tends to be more brown in color as well as moist in texture, and it is more common amongst people of African or European descent. The greyer, flakier dry earwax tends to be found among Asian and Native American populations.
How does earwax protect us?
Protection and cleanliness are the primary purposes of earwax. As earwax moves through the ear canal, it collects any foreign particles, like dirt, that it finds. These will then be expelled when the earwax falls from the ear, as it generally does naturally. If your ear is clean, it is also healthy, and there is less risk of developing an infection.
Bacterial infections in the ear are also less likely because earwax can block bacteria and other germs from entering in the first place. Its sticky texture forms a strong natural barrier. Earwax also has some insect-repellent qualities, reducing the risk of larger bugs trying to crawl inside your ear canal.
A third way in which earwax protects your ear is through its pH level. The slightly acidic natural pH of earwax can help stop bacteria from growing. It also maintains the pH level of the ear as a whole. An appropriate pH level prevents dryness and irritation in the ear, keeping it lubricated and healthy.
In most cases, earwax serves an important function in the ear and should be allowed to work as it should, being produced and then falling out when it has served its purpose. In a few cases, it is possible that there will be too much earwax or that it will become hard and block the ear. In these circumstances, it is possible that the earwax will need to be removed or reduced.
What happens if you have too much earwax?
There are a range of problems associated with a buildup of earwax. These include earache, hearing loss, tinnitus, itchiness, infections, or vertigo. It may also interfere with hearing tests or the performance of hearing aids.
Many of these problems are extensions of the natural protective qualities of earwax. The fact that it forms such a powerful barrier within the ear may stop bacteria from getting in, but if bacteria are inside, they may become trapped if earwax is not removed properly, increasing the risk of infection. Earwax also blocks sound and forms a visual obstruction that makes it difficult for a doctor to examine your ear when trying to assess its overall health.
How to remove excess earwax
Many people try to remove earwax using cotton swabs, but these can cause more damage by pushing the wax further into the ear canal. If you want to attempt to clean your ears yourself, you can use droplets (usually oil-based) or sprays like the Innerscope Ear Spray Cleaner & Wax Removal. These soften or outright dissolve the earwax without being intrusive. If this does not work, you may need to consult with your doctor.
Your ear canal should be cleaner and safer because of earwax. It makes it harder for bacteria, dirt and other irritants to enter, and it cleans them away if they do get inside. It also maintains your ear’s pH level and your overall ear health. That is why it is important that you only try to remove earwax when it builds up to the point that it causes harm.