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Is Cerumen (earwax) Good or Bad for You?

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“Why do our ears produce earwax?”, and “How do I manage cerumen?” are questions we are asked daily. Cerumen, or earwax, is naturally produced by glands in your ear canals, and is made up of dead skin cells and other substances, including lysozyme, an antibacterial enzyme, fatty acids, alcohols, cholesterol, and squalene.

Why Do our Ears Produce Earwax?

Cerumen is naturally produced by the glands in the ears and actually provides the following ingenious protective functions:

  • Prevents dust, bacteria, and other germs from entering and damaging your ear
  • Traps dirt (and even insects) and inhibits the growth of bacteria
  • Lubricates and protects the skin of your ear canal from becoming irritated by water

Your Ears are Self-Cleaning: Keep out the Swabs

Your ear canals are self-cleaning, and according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAO-HNSF), excess earwax should migrate out of your ear canal automatically and naturally. The removal of earwax is also helped along by movements of your jaw (talking, chewing, etc.). Once it reaches your outer ear it simply falls out, or is washed out when you shower or bathe.

Physicians and audiologists generally agree that cotton swabs are a bad idea for removing earwax and should only be used on the outer portions of your ear. Probing inside the ear canal with cotton-swabs, bobby pins, paper clips, etc. can result in damage to the ear canal, cerumen impaction, or eardrum perforation.  

Cerumen Impaction

Too much of a good thing is not always good. When cerumen builds up too much, it can become impacted, causing temporary hearing loss. When that happens, you may also experience fullness, pressure, or a plugged sensation in the ear, itching, and/or tinnitus or ringing in the ear.

Depending on how dry or moist, or how deep the cerumen is, your doctor or audiologist will use various methods to remove excessive or impacted cerumen, including:

  • Mechanic removal with a curette.
  • Microsuction
  • Irrigation

 Cerumen softening agents can be used to soften your earwax at home to help keep it from building up to excessive levels. Acceptable liquids include coconut or olive oil, Hydrogen Peroxide 3%, or over-the-counter solutions such as Debrox or Miracell drops.

Cerumen-Omega 3 Connection

Excessive cerumen buildup may signify a deficiency in omega 3 fatty acids. Speak to your doctor about increasing your intake of omega 3 if you tend to build up too much earwax. Some excellent sources of omega 3 fatty acids include:

  • walnuts
  • purslane
  • ground flax seeds
  • cod liver oil (tested for mercury and other toxins)
  • cold-water fish (wild vs. farm-raised) such as salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, and herring

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