What is Ear Wax? Is it Friend or Foe?

What is ear wax?

Ear wax is a mixture of dirt and dust, skin, sweat and oils that are secreted by the skin of the ear.  The medical term for ear wax is cerumen (pronounced ser-oo-men).

What is ear wax?

Do you know that ears are “self-cleaning”?

You may hear our Ear Nurses say that our ears are “self-cleaning”.  This means that the skin inside our ear canal sheds naturally and moves outwards by means of a process called epithelial migration.  This process occurs when flaky, shedded skin moves slowly along the canal to the outside of the ear.  The speed differs between individuals and can be impeded by things such as using a cotton bud or attempts to clean the ear yourself.   It can take 2-3 months for something at the eardrum to move to the opening of the ear.

Why do I need ear wax?  

Wax is necessary to keep our ears healthy and comfortable.  Its lubricating and anti-bacterial properties facilitate this.

  1. Ear wax traps dust and foreign particles.  It forms a barrier which protects the ear, (particularly the inner part of the ear) from air-borne particles, foreign objects and insects.  Without wax, the eardrum would be at risk of injury or damage.
  2. Ear wax is slightly acidic and has a natural ability to fight bacteria and fungi that may lead to infection.
  3. Wax is lubricating and acts as a moisturiser for ears.  As you already know, our ears shed skin.  Without the oiliness of wax, this flaky skin would irritate our ears and cause them to feel itchy and irritated.  
What is ear wax?

Everyone is different!

Ear wax differs between individuals. It is usually wet or dry and can vary in colour and texture depending on your ancestry.  The amount of wax your ears produce can vary significantly from person to person, and from ear to ear in the same individual.  Many believe that more wax is produced with ageing, but in fact age will often have nothing to do with the amount of wax produced.  You may be surprised to know that babies and children can also produce large amounts. 

How much is too much?  

The trouble with excessive amounts of wax, is that it can start to feel unpleasant in the ear and affect your hearing.  Some of the signs of excessive wax are:  

  • A feeling of fullness or discomfort
  • Earache                                                          
  • Tinnitus (or ringing in the ears)
  • Itchiness                                             
  • Dizziness
  • Ear infections
  • Hearing loss

How do I remove the excess wax?

  1. Rule number one is don’t try to clean your ears yourself.  You will only push the wax in deeper and potentially cause an injury to your ear.
  2. Drop some olive oil in your ears from time to time. Olive oil softens the wax and encourages it’s movement out of the canal naturally.  It is also a product that everyone has in their pantry! 
  3. Have a consultation with our Ear Nurses for a thorough assessment of your ears.  If required, the excess wax can be removed gently and safely using our micro-suction technique.                   

Then you too can hear the difference!