Why Do We Have Earwax?


You feel it building up in the lobes of your ear and sometimes you wonder why do we have ear wax. Is it bad? Is it necessary? These are some of the things that we will find out. One thing is for sure, your body’s production of earwax is something very normal. You don’t need to worry about it too much. You should be worried if you don’t have any. Later, you will find out that earwax actually helps and has certain purposes to keep us healthy.

We will also look at some of the misconceptions about certain practices we have developed in dealing with earwax.

What is Earwax?

First, let us define what exactly is earwax so we can later discover why do we have earwax. It is the sticky and shiny substance that you find… well, inside your ears. Earwax is made in the canal of your outer ear. It’s the area between the fleshy part of your ear outside of your head – this is the one that you can see and the middle of your ear. There are special glands in the skin in your outer ear canal and these glands produce earwax. The medical term for it is cerumen.

It is 20 to 50 percent fat and it coats your ear canals, later we will find out why. Earwax is a combination of sebum, sloughed off skin cells from inside the ear, and ceruminous glands secretions.

Misconceptions About Earwax

Some of us grew up believing that earwax is dirty and should be removed entirely. But just how accurate is this? The truth is there are some uses in earwax that we will discuss. Let us look at some common misconceptions about earwax so we can better understand why do we have earwax.

  • Poking Q-tips

    One of the common mistakes that people do is poke q-tips or cotton swabs inside the ear, sometimes causing damage to the canal or worse, the ear drums. Other people use other objects like paper clips, ball pens, toothpicks and bobby pins in a misguided attempt to clear out their earwax.

    On the contrary, inserting objects like cotton swabs to your ear would only push the wax further inside and cause damage to your ear drums. It can also cause earwax impaction. That means there is an excessive buildup of earwax that blocks your ear canal.

  • Earwax is Dirty

    Because people mistakenly believed that earwax is a sign of dirty ears, they try to remove it entirely. The truth is it has some protective qualities. It’s a sticky agent that acts as a lubricant and prevents water, dust, small particles, and even insects from sneaking inside the ear. Earwax even contains antimicrobial peptides. These prevent bacteria and fungi from invading the auditory canal which may cause infection.

These are good things to understand in order to better appreciate why do we have earwax.

Why Do We Have Earwax?

Now you know what earwax technically is and some of the things you really shouldn’t be doing it. But why is it there? Why do we have earwax?

You already know how it is produced. Earwax is naturally produced by your body to help clean, protect and lubricate your ears. It has several important jobs.

  • Earwax protects and moisturizes the skin in your ear canal to prevent your ear from getting dry and itchy.
  • It contains special chemicals to fight off infections which could hurt the skin that is inside your ear canal. Here are some more information about ear infections.
  • Earwax also acts as a shield between the outside world and your eardrum. It is earwax that will trap dust, dirt, and other elements that could enter your ear so they can’t travel further inside your body.

Types of Earwax

There is actually more than one type of earwax. What could they indicate and what is its relevance about why do we have earwax?

  • Wet

    The wet, dominant type is the more common type of earwax for Caucasians and Africans. 97% of Africans and Europeans have this type of earwax. It is used for self-cleaning, dryness prevention, and it also promotes sweating.

  • Dry

    The dry, recessive type is more common to Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Asians. 95% of East Asians and Native Americans have dry ear wax. It could be because of living in colder climates.

  • Subtypes

    There are also subtypes of earwax such as the tarry, classic wet, and firm nuggets. Then there is the dry flakes and corn flakes.

Earwax Buildup

You now know that why do we have earwax is actually a good thing. But not when it’s excessive. When there is too much earwax, it is something called earwax buildup. Normally, the excess wax will find its way out of your ear canal and into the ear opening to naturally be washed away. But when your glands make more earwax than you need, it could get hard and block your ear.

Earwax buildup is a common cause of temporary hearing loss. So be very careful when you treat earwax buildup at home. It’s best to visit your doctor to get treatment if it does not improve.

You are also more likely to have earwax buildup if you frequently use earphones. It can prevent earwax from coming out of your ear canals and cause a blockage.

Signs of earwax buildup include partial hearing loss but it’s temporary, tinnitus, which is an uncomfortable ringing or buzzing in the ear. You could also experience a feeling of fullness in the ear and earache.

How to Safely Clean Your Ears

So what should you do to safely remove some of the earwax or excess earwax?

  • Do Nothing

    It may seem unlikely but the truth about cleaning your earwax is that you shouldn’t do anything about it. Even for kids, you don’t have to do anything special to remove earwax. Washing your hair regularly is enough to keep your ears clean.

  • Wipe with a Cloth

    If you really cannot control yourself and avoid cleaning your ears, what you can do just to remove the excess outside is to wipe the outside of your ear with a washcloth. Do not use cotton swabs.

One thing to note about why do we have earwax is that earwax either naturally falls out or is removed when you wash. It will naturally clean itself. If you want some extra protection in your ears, these are the top 10 best hearing protection earmuffs for adults and children.