Although some may find the sticky, brownish-yellow substance in the ears to be repugnant, earwax, or cerumen, serves an essential purpose in protecting our ears and keeping us healthy. You should never attempt to remove earwax from your inner ear on your own. Physicians don’t recommend removing earwax with a Q-tip or cotton swab until it is already in the outer ear. In fact, the American Academy of Otolaryngology does not recommend having earwax removed unless it is causing problems. You wouldn’t want to remove all your earwax for the following reasons:
It moisturizes the ear canal.
Earwax is oily because it contains a large amount of sebum. This substance lubricates the ear canal, which keeps your ears from feeling dry and itchy and causing a burning sensation.
Earwax protects against certain bacteria.
Earwax has been found to have bactericidal effects on some types of bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus (can cause skin and respiratory infections), E. coli and H. influenza (can cause ear infections). It has also been proven to inhibit the growth of certain types of fungi. Therefore a shortage of earwax increases the chances of developing an ear infection from some types of bacteria and other microbes.
It keeps the dirt out.
Earwax catches dirt, dust and other particles that can easily get into your ear canal, and it is pushed out with the earwax. Without earwax, these particles would stay in your ear canal, build up and cause infections, hearing loss and other problems.
When to Have the Ear Canal Cleaned
Although a normal amount of earwax is good, an excessive amount of earwax is counter-productive. Too much earwax can be painful, cause itching, reduce hearing, and support the growth of some other types of bacteria.
Too much earwax blocking the ear canal can trap bacteria inside, causing infection. Signs of too much earwax include pain in the inner ear, itching, ringing sounds in the ears and a decrease in hearing ability. Other signs include a foul-smelling odor and a discharge coming out of the ears. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, see your doctor. He or she can safely clean out your ears using irrigation and/or wax-dissolving agents and treat any ear infections that might have developed with antibiotics.