What You Need To Know About Ear Wax

Ear wax, or cerumen, is a naturally occurring substance produced in the ears of many mammals, including humans. Despite popular beliefs about its uncleanliness, it helps keep our ears clean by filtering dust, debris, and other substances, such as shampoo and crayons, and protects the ear canal from infection.

The ear canal is essentially a cul de sac of skin that, unlike skin everywhere else, doesn’t get to remove dead cells through physical erosion. Ear wax is the creative solution to this problem.

Defy Your Doctor and B... C. Thomas Corriher, Sa... Best Price: $15.57 Buy New $27.63 (as of 03:50 EDT - Details) Produced by the sebaceous and cerumenous glands in the ear canal, ear wax contains a range of organic compounds, including saturated and unsaturated long-chain fatty acids, alcohols, squalene, and cholesterol. Its precise composition varies between people and will depend on diet, ethnicity, their age, and the environment.

Ear wax has an important role in the ear’s function and, in most cases, doesn’t need to be got rid of. Our ears are self-cleaning, and if functioning as they should, require no input from us to keep them clean. Lypo-Spheric Vitamin C... Buy New $32.95 (as of 10:05 EDT - Details)

In some people, this self-cleaning mechanism gets disrupted, and ear wax gets trapped at some point along its path out of the ear canal. This can happen for a number of reasons including the anatomy of your ear (some people have a rather sharp bend in their ear canal).

Or, it can be due to the introduction of foreign bodies such as cotton buds, which actually cause the ear wax to become impacted deep in the ear canal. Because the ear keeps producing wax, the blockage slowing gets bigger, staying in the ear for years or decades. [Photo Amazon.com Gift Card i... Check Amazon for Pricing. Credit: Emma/Flickr |CC BY-NC-SA]

Impacted wax can have a number of side effects including pain, general irritation, and sometimes infection. In some cases, it has been associated with tinnitus, which is a buzzing or ringing sound in the ears without an apparent direct cause.

Impacted ear wax can affect the movement of the ear drum or occlude the ear canal, making it difficult for sound to pass through. This occurs in up to 35% of people over the age of 65 and can cause a mild hearing loss, which is typically alleviated once the wax is removed.

Many efforts to clean ears actually disrupt its self-cleaning cycle. But with over 1,000 patents for ear wax removers, there’s clearly a strong desire – and market – out there to get rid of the stuff.

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