Do you dig the wax out of your ears? Tell the truth now, I bet you do. It’s something people have done for centuries – they have even used special tools, from Viking picks of gold to Japanese mimikaki. Why should we be different?
Well, simply because our ear wax is there for a reason and we should leave it alone.
What is ear wax?
Wax is also known as cerumen. It is made of dead skin cells, dust, sweat and oily secretions from glands in the ear canal. These secretions lubricate the ear canal and prevent it becoming too dry.
The composition of wax varies from individual to individual depending on diet, age and environment. Some people’s wax is dry, others are thick and gloopy and it all comes down to your genetics. It’s there to carry dead skin cells out of the ear canal and it shouldn’t smell very much.
If it does smell, it suggests there is an infection (I can attest to a middle ear infection smelling like wet dog; it was at that point I took my son to the Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital because it was Friday night and everything was closed). Runny ear wax can also result from a ruptured eardrum or a serious head injury.
There has been some effort in using ear wax to detect drug use (like urine or saliva) as well as measuring hormone levels and culturing to help guide treatment.
Why do I need to leave it alone?
Yes, it gets into your earphones and onto your pillowcase (yuck) but by sticking a cotton bud in there to get the stuff out, you risk jamming it in further. I can also attest to ear wax being jammed against my ear drum (this one was caused by antibacterial ear drops gumming everything up) and needing an ENT to physically pick it out. I cried, it hurt so much.
Using a cotton bud can also risk rupturing your ear drum.
In addition to keeping the skin moist and being a physical barrier to bugs and debris, there’s also some evidence to suggest that it has antibacterial and antifungal properties, not least being slightly acidic.
If you do have serious blockage, it’s best to see a doctor and let them handle it. Although not pleasant, it’s better than the alternatives.
I talked about this with Danny Hoyland on West Bremer Radio on 4 March 2023. Listen live each week: Saturday 7.40 am, West Bremer Radio.