Earwax or Cerumen is made is made up of an oily substance known as sebum and also dead skin cells that that are continually shed from the lining of the ear canal (like all other skin)
Cerumen is secreted and produced by the sweat and sebaceous glands.
Earwax is formed to protect the ear, it has antimicrobial properties and acts as a cleaning mechanism removing dust and dead skin cells by migrating with the skin laterally from the ear. The oily nature of earwax lubricates and moisturises the skin within the ear canal. Earwax and the migrating mechanism act a cleaning and defence mechanism for the ear.
Earwax builds up in the outer third of the ear canal, however, ear wax can become impacted deeper in the ear canal if you put objects such as cotton buts in ear headphones or hearing aids into the ear canal.
Earwax and health
Earwax is completely normal and has a role of protecting the ear. It is important that you do not try to remove ear wax yourself. Some people build up more wax because they work in dusty environments, their metabolism results in a greater production of earwax, or because they are older their earwax is drier because the glands in the ear canal do not work as well as they once used to. Narrow, hairy or irregularly shaped ears may result in the natural migrating or cleaning mechanism of the ear to be ineffective and therefore may mean you are more prone to earwax build up.
The colour of ear wax is generally determined by how wet or dry the wax is. The drier the ear wax is, generally results in a darker appearance.
Earwax cannot directly cause tinnitus, however, if you are not hearing external sounds as you used to you may be more aware of your tinnitus or other subjective or bodily sounds.
Earwax that completely occludes (blocks) your ear canal can result in a temporary hearing loss until the wax is removed. Earwax cannot result in permanent hearing loss.
No, earwax cannot cause memory loss, however, if one of, or both of your ears is completely blocked you may feel disorientated, lose concentration or not hear what people say to you properly.
No, however, if one of your ears is completely blocked with wax you may feel disorientated or find it difficult to localise sound which may give you the sensation of feeling off balance.
Yes, dry, hard earwax that is exerting pressure
Earwax can be a very pale yellow that may give the appearance of being an “off white”.
When earwax dries, its appearance becomes darker. This may appear “black” in some people.
Yes, especially dry earwax can cause the ear to itch.
Fully occluding earwax blocks the ear canal and stops sound reaching the ear drum effectively and therefore impacts your ability to hear. This is known as a conductive hearing loss as the conduction of sound to the inner ear is impaired.
Earwax becomes hard because it dries out. Some people, especially if they are older, produce drier wax because their sebaceous glands do not perform optimally.
The ear has a natural cleaning mechanism. The skin migrates outwards from the centre of the ear drum. This migration acts like a conveyor belt that helps remove wax and other debris from the ear canal. It is also believed that natural movements of the jaw like chewing also help the process. However, if the wax becomes impacted, dry, you have irregular or hairy ear canals the process is less effective and you may require removal by a clinician trained to remove wax from the ear.
Earwax should always be removed by a trained professional. The gold standard method for ear wax removal is known as microsuction. A small probe is inserted into the ear canal under observation using a microscope or smartphone based ear scope. The probe acts like a hoover or suction, and gently removes the wax from the ear canal.
If your tinnitus resulted from your ear becoming blocked with wax, then removing earwax may enable you to ignore your tinnitus or allow environmental sounds to mask the sounds you are hearing.
Earwax removal is available on the NHS, however, this often involves waiting for an appointment. We can offer you a quick and convenient appointment in your own home.