What is the purpose of ear wax?



The outer foundation of the ear canal is cartilage covered with skin that contains hair and glands that secrete cerumen or earwax (a yellow or brown substance). Together the hair and earwax help prevent "invaders" such as insects, dust and bacteria from getting into the ear. Typically, the earwax traps the dirt, dries and flakes it out of the ear. The ear canal can become blocked by attempts to clean the ear and push wax deeper into the ear. Blockage can cause temporary hearing loss. Probing to "clean" the ear canal with cotton swabs can damage the fragile structures in your ear.

Ear canals should take care of themselves. Cleaning by wiping the external portion of the ear with a soft cloth or tissue over the finger should be enough. If you experience a hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ear), earache or a sensation of fullness in the ear, then you may have an earwax blockage. Your physician can prescribe or recommend softeners or clean the wax out in the office.