Earwax is a naturally produced substance that protects the ear canal. It is a mixture of skin, sweat, hair, and debris (such as shampoo and dirt) held together with a fluid secreted by glands inside the ear canal (ceruminous glands). The ear canals are self-cleaning.
Earwax helps filter dust, keeps the ears clean, and protects the ear canal from infection. Normally, earwax is a self-draining liquid that does not cause problems. As the skin of the ear canal sheds, the wax is carried to the outer part of the ear canal and drains from the ear by itself.
Earwax ranges in color from light to dark brown or orange. In children, earwax is usually softer and lighter than the earwax produced by adults. Children produce a lot of earwax, which tapers off as they grow older.
Earwax is normally produced only in the outer half of the ear canal and will not become deeply impacted unless it is pushed in. The ear canal may become blocked (impacted) when attempts to clean the ear with cotton swabs, bobby pins, or a finger push wax deeply into the ear canal. Impacted earwax may cause some hearing loss or other problems, such as ringing in the ears (tinnitus), a full feeling in the ears, or vertigo. Poking at the wax with cotton swabs, your fingers, or other objects usually only further compacts the wax against the eardrum.
Most earwax problems can be handled with home treatment. Professional help may be needed to remove tightly packed earwax.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
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