For the most part, we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the inside of our ears, apart from a very general “are they clean?”. Perhaps we should be giving them more thought because the color of our earwax can say a lot about our general health, and it can give us valuable clues when something is wrong.
The Role of Ear Wax in the Body
Earwax is often viewed as a gross and annoying nuisance, but it is actually a very crucial part of our natural defense system. Ear wax is formed from wax glands in the external ear canal and it protects the skin and ear from water and infection.
Everyone differs in the amount of ear wax that they have, and the consistency. Ear wax can be wet, or dry, and too much or too little can be quite dangerous, increasing the risk of infection. So, you really want to have just the right amount.
What is the Right Amount of Ear Wax?
Every individual is different in terms of how much ear wax is the right amount, and the only way to truly know if the amount of earwax in your ears is normal is if you have a doctor analyze it.
If you’re experiencing the following symptoms you may have a buildup of earwax, and you should consult a doctor:
-Earache, fullness in the ear or a ‘plugged’ feeling
-Partial hearing loss
-Tinnitus, ringing, or noises in the ear
-Itching, odor, or discharge
What Your Earwax Says About Your Health
The color of each person’s ear wax can vary, but there are some colors that are natural, and others that indicate a serious health problem.
“Normal earwax ranges from light orange to dark brown, but if it’s yellow, green, white, or black, that suggests an infection and you need to see a doctor,” says Benjamin Tweel, MD, an otolaryngologist at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Your ear wax should never have an odor. If it does, this could be a sign of an infection.
“In my experience, it’s the patient who notices a smell, but it’s very possible other people might bring it up as well,” says Tweel. “Regardless, it needs to be treated.”
If your ear wax is dry and flaky you could have another skin problem that is prevalent, such as eczema. This consistency, accompanied by soreness could also be psoriasis, though it’s less common.
“Patients usually already know they have this because they’ll see rashes elsewhere, but it’s definitely worth bringing up,” says Tweel, “it’s pretty easily treated”.
Scratching your ear every once in awhile doesn’t mean that there’s a problem with your ear, but if you are constantly itching and scratching there is a chance you could have an infection.
Earwax Removal: Do It the Right Way
Ear wax isn’t bad, it keeps your ears dry and prevents infection, but you do want to keep it from blocking your ears. Ideally, the ears will never have to be cleaned, but this is not always the case. If you are experiencing symptoms that are interfering with your day-to-day life, consult a doctor or clean your ears safely using proper methods.
First things first, when it comes to earwax removal, do not use cotton-tipped applicators (such as Q-tips) because you risk breaking your eardrum. It’s also possible to jam ear wax even deeper into the ear shaft. These applicators may also increase the risk of bacterial infection in the external ear canal.
Instead, visit your doctor on a regular basis to have them clean out your ears, or try this safe ear cleaning method at home:
- Soften the wax – Use an eyedropper to apply a few drops of natural baby oil or glycerin in your ear canal.
- Use warm water – After a day or two, when the wax has softened, use a rubber-bulb syringe to gently squirt warm water into your ear canal. Tilt your head to straighten the ear canal and allow the water to enter the ear, and when you are finished irrigating tip your head to the side and let the water drain out.
- Dry your ear canal – When you’re finished, gently dry your outer ear with a clean towel.
Do not have your ears irrigated if you have diabetes, a hole in the eardrum (perforation), tube in the eardrum, skin problems such as eczema in the ear canal or a weakened immune system.
For something that’s thought about so infrequently throughout the day, earwax can give us some important clues as to our general health and well-being. Taking good care of our ears will ensure that our hearing remains top-notch throughout our lives. Something as simple as changing the way that you clean your ears can have a big impact on your health.