Earwax, known medically as “cerumen,” is a natural secretion made in the outer part of the ear canal. The waxy substance is usually yellowish and helps lubricate, clean and protect the ear canal.
What is earwax?
It is a mixture of secretions, some more viscous and sticky than others, produced by sebaceous glands and modified apocrine sweat glands .
Earwax cleans and protects the ear canal. Aided by jaw movements, such as chewing, it makes it way outward, taking with it any dirt or other particulates present in the canal.
Composed of lipids and sebum, earwax has lubricating properties that prevent the lining of the ear canal from getting dry or itchy. Earwax also has antibacterial and antifungal properties and even helps keep out insects.
Caring for your ears
Ears are said to be self-cleaning, since wax generally drains from the ear canal on its own. Visible earwax on the edge of the canal is not an indication of poor hygiene.
When it comes to cleaning your ears, the general rule is to remove any excess wax with a damp washcloth. Cotton swabs are not recommended because they can push the wax deeper into the canal, causing a wax buildup or plug. Using cotton swabs also removes the protective layer in the ear, making the ear canal more vulnerable to infections.
Earwax plugs can form for several different reasons:
• Excessive earwax production
• Unusual shape of the ear canal
• Excessive hair in the ear canal
• Frequent, prolonged use of earphones or earplugs
Earwax plugs can lead to:
• Temporary reduced hearing
• Pressure on the eardrum causing pain
Do you have questions about earwax plugs and how to remove them? Talk to your family pharmacist! He or she can give you expert advice or refer you to the health professional best able to help you, if need be.