Would you consider yourself an ear wax whisperer? No? Well, you’re missing out because your ear wax can tell you some really interesting things about your health. You just need to open up your ears and listen. Earwax is a tantalizing combination of sloughed-off skin cells from inside the ear and gland secretions. It may sound gross, but your earwax works really hard to protect you, so don’t take it for granted.
“Ear wax is extremely important to the health of our ears as it has protective properties against infections,” Dr. Deborah Burton, a pediatric ear, nose, and throat surgeon, tells Bustle. Like nose hairs and eyelashes, earwax is there to keep foreign objects out of your body. Earwax blocks dust, bacteria, and other stuff you want nowhere near you from coming in and wreaking havoc. If you didn’t have earwax you would have to deal with way more inflammation, irritation, and infections.
In addition to keeping you healthy, earwax is a good house guest. It cleans up after itself. Whenever you chew or talk, the movement of your jaw causes the wax in your ear to churn and clean out your ear. Pretty cool, huh? And because our ears can clean themselves, there’s really never a reason to stick a q-tip in there. Dr. Burton warns, “Never ever use q-tips to clean the ear. Ever. Even if you use infant sized q-tips. The round end pushes wax onto the eardrum and worsens the problem.”
As amazing as earwax is, it too can have its off days, but luckily for you, the appearance and texture of your earwax can let you know if something is wrong with your body, so you can get it treated quickly. Here are 7 things your ear wax can help you figure out about your health.
1. Yellowish, Greenish Earwax
“Normal” earwax is usually an orange-brown color. If your ear wax looks more yellow-green, that could be a sign of an infection, so schedule an appointment with a doctor to check out what’s going on.
2. Flaky Earwax
A flaky ear canal or flaky earwax could be a sign of eczema. If you have flaky earwax and you notice skin rashes on other parts of your body, eczema could be the underlying cause, but don’t worry. Eczema is easily treated with over-the-counter creams.
3. Smelly Earwax
Earwax shouldn’t have an odor. If it does, it can be a sign of an infection that needs to be treated by a doctor. It could also mean your eardrum has been ruptured. Either way, this is something your doctor will be able to handle.
4. Leaky Earwax
Watery earwax after a workout is normal due to increased sweat, but if you notice earwax leaking out of your ear at other times, it could be a sign of an infection called Swimmer’s ear. Definitely make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
5. Heavy Earwax
You shouldn’t be able to feel the earwax in your ear. If you do, that could mean your ears are blocked with excess earwax and need to be cleaned out by a professional. Don’t try to handle it yourself with q-tips; they don’t actually clean out earwax, they just push it further down.
6. Itchy Earwax
An occasional itchy ear is nothing to worry about. But if you can never satisfy the itch no matter how much you scratch, you may have an ear infection that needs to be treated by a doctor. Think about if you switched shampoo or soap recently, that could be what’s irritating your ears.
7. Dark Earwax
Darker earwax is a product of aging and is totally normal, so there’s usually no need to worry about it. You should double check, though, that there isn’t any dried blood present that’s making it darker, if your earwax is normally light in color.
Earwax comes in several varieties of colors and textures, each of which are caused by something different. Don’t take the sticky stuff in your ears for granted, though, because it works hard on your behalf. Take care of your earwax, and your earwax will take care of you.