What Is Ear Wax, And How Do You Properly Clean Your Ears?

Earwax: it’s one of those things that we all get but rarely talk about. But have you ever stopped to wonder what earwax actually is, what it does and how you should be managing it?

Well, stick with us, because we’re about to go on a journey down your ear canal to learn some interesting facts about earwax.

All About Earwax

Earwax – also known by its medical name, cerumen – is a substance our ears produce to clean and protect themselves.  

It’s made up of sebum (a body secretion made up mostly of fat), skin cells, dirt and sweat and is created in our inner ears. When you move your jaw by talking or chewing, you’re actually helping earwax move from the eardrum to the ear opening where it can be removed.

What type of earwax you get actually says more about you than you might think. Wet earwax is more common in Caucasians and Africans. Dry, flaky earwax is more common among Native Americans, Pacific Islanders and Asians. But the consistency of your earwax will vary depending on your environment and diet. For example, if you work in a dusty environment, you may get more earwax and it may be darker in colour.

Dark coloured earwax is also a sign of older earwax which has trapped more dirt and bacteria.

When earwax can cause problems

Earwax is a normal and healthy secretion and a vital part of our overall ear health, but it can create problems for hearing when it builds up in our ears – a process known as impaction.

Some people may produce too much earwax and others may find their wax just builds up over time. Either way, a build up of ear wax is a common and easily treatable form of hearing loss.

Signs you may have too much earwax can include mild deafness or hearing impairment, an earache, a feeling of extra weight or fullness in your ear, tinnitus, or dizziness.

If your ears are a little on the waxy side, you can prevent build up and impaction using drops from your pharmacy.

How to properly clean your ears

Many people mistakenly believe that cleaning their ears out regularly is an important part of personal maintenance. Actually, the reverse is true.

Our ears were designed by nature to be self-cleaning.  Wax should take care of itself naturally and work its way to your outer ear, where you can remove it with a cloth or cotton bud.

Many doctors suggest sticking to the elbow rule – don’t put anything smaller than your elbow into your ear! That means no cotton buds, bobby pins or anything else that could potentially damage your ear drum.

Not only can you potentially damage your eardrum by sticking cotton buds into it, but you will likely make the build up of wax worse by pushing wax back into the ears.

If you have a significant wax build up in your ears and it’s affecting your hearing, the safest course of action is to visit your GP to have it removed. If the wax isn’t causing significant problems but you’d still like to remove it, there are a few products available which can help.

The recommended process to clean your ears is to apply ear drops, available at your pharmacy, a couple of times a day for a few days to soften the wax. Once the wax has softened, it can be washed out.

Tilt your head to the point where your ear canal is level and use a rubber bulbed syringe, also available at your pharmacy, to gently squirt water into your ear canal.

Stay away from ear candles, as these are proven to have little benefit. In fact, lighting a candle in your ear has – unsurprisingly – led to burns, as well as wax blockages. They can make the problem much worse and are not recommended.

Earwax and hearing aids

Earwax can cause problems for hearing aid wearers. Hearing aids can stimulate the glands in your ears and may cause an increase in ear wax production. They can also block the natural flow of earwax build up from your ear canals and become blocked and damaged by earwax. The solution is to clean and maintain your hearing aids properly. Ask our friendly team at Health & Hearing for a demonstration if you don’t already know how to do this.