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Facts about earwax

What is earwax made of?

Earwax (scientific name cerumen) is a combination of sebum, sloughed-off skin cells from inside of the ear, and secretions from the cerumenous glands in the outer ear canal.

Do you know your earwax type?

Earwax comes in two types - wet and dry. The kind you have depends on genetics. People of North-eastern Asian descent, especially those from China or Korea, tend to have dry ear wax, while the earwax of people from other regions is wet.

How earwax is like nose hair

Earwax is another of our body's mundane, under-appreciated, yet totally amazing protective devices. Like eyelashes and nose hair, earwax shields our body from outside invaders, including dust, bacteria, and other micro-organisms that can get in and irritate, inflame, or infect.

How earwax is like tears

Earwax lubricates our ears, in much the same way as tears lubricate our eyes. Without adequate amounts of earwax, our ears would feel dry and itchy.

Earwax cleans up after itself

Thanks to earwax, our ears are self-cleaning. Whenever you move your jaw or chew, you help keep earwax churning slowly from the eardrum to the ear opening, where it will then either dry up, flake off, or fall out in most cases.

Your ears are "no trespassing" zones

Since our ears are self-cleaning, we should never, ever stick anything in them! That includes those cotton-tipped swabs that seem perfectly designed to fit inside the narrow ear canal. Keep these swabs and any other objects - including your fingers - out of your ears. When you put something in your ear – to scratch an itch or to attempt to remove wax – you risk pushing wax further into the ear, where it can become blocked.

Listen up: No candles!

In an attempt to clear excess wax, some people have tried ear candling. In ear candling, a person lies on his or her side while a long cone-shaped candle is nestled just inside of the ear canal. The candle is then set aflame and, it is claimed, the warmth will soften and suction out the wax. Ear candling does not have any proven benefit and can cause burns, wax blockage, and punctured eardrum.

How earwax affects hearing

Blocked earwax is one of the most common cause of hearing loss. This can happen if wax is pushed back toward the eardrum or if the ears produce more earwax than is needed. Symptoms of impacted earwax include earache, dizziness, feeling of fullness in the ear, a sensation that the ear is plugged, and tinnitus or ringing in the ear. Your ear may also itch, have an odour, or emit a discharge.

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