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Why Do We Have Wax in Our Ears?

Why Do We Have Wax in Our Ears?

Earwax may seem kind of gross, especially since it’s typically sticky and brown. However, it serves an important role, so it’s best to leave it alone unless problems arise.

Dr. Vandana Kumra has been in private practice since 1998, providing compassionate and comprehensive ear, nose, and throat care to people in Manhattan. While it’s possible for earwax to cause issues from time to time, she encourages people to avoid using things to “clean” their ears. 

Instead, Dr. Kumra recommends letting your earwax do its job and scheduling an appointment at her New York office if you have signs of a problem.

The purpose of earwax

You’ve likely heard the popular health myth that you need to clean your ears regularly to remove the wax and prevent buildup. However, if you put things in your ears to accomplish this, you’re causing more harm than good.

Believe it or not, ears are self-cleaning organs, and most people never need to clean them on their own. In fact, wax buildup that causes blockages occurs most frequently in people who insert items into their ears to clean them. This process works against the cleaning system in place, pushing wax deeper into the ears and putting you at risk of injury.

Your ears make wax, or cerumen, in the outer portion of the ear canal. It contains hair and dead skin cells combined with discharge from two glands. The color of this substance can vary from person to person, and it can seem wet and sticky or dry and flaky. However, it always serves the same purposes, including: 

Generally speaking, healthy earwax is usually light yellow, orange-brown, or honey-colored. If it seems to contain discharge, like greenish or whitish pus, you should contact Dr. Kumra, especially if you find it on your pillow after sleeping.

When earwax becomes a problem

In most cases, earwax gets moved through the ear canal on its own. This occurs because the skin in your ears grows from the inside out, which helps carry the wax out. It also gets extra pushes through your ear canal from your jaw every time you chew. 

Once earwax reaches the outside of your ear, it flakes off, or you can wipe the outside of your ear with a washcloth. This process makes additional cleaning unnecessary, especially if you wash your hair regularly.

However, some people make more earwax than others, and wax can also become harder and drier than normal — especially in older adults. When excessive wax builds up in the ear, it can lead to a variety of issues, such as:

Wax buildup can affect anyone, but it’s most common in children, older adults, and people who put things in their ears. Your chances of wax buildup also increase if you have a developmental disability or your ear canal has a shape that interferes with the natural ear cleaning process.

Remember, if you think you have excessive earwax buildup, see a skilled provider like Dr. Kumra for assessment and treatment. Trying to clean them yourself can injure your inner ear and eardrum, and it can push the wax deeper into the canal.

Do you have signs of earwax buildup? Schedule a consultation with Vandana Kumra, MD, in Manhattan by calling 646-859-6136 or booking online today.

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