May 17, 2021
Can Your Earwax Give You Clues About Your Health?
For some people, earwax is irritating. For others, it seems gross. But the truth is that your earwax plays an important part in protecting your hearing. It can also give you subtle clues about your health, if you know how to listen.
The Colors of Healthy Earwax
The first clue you can look for in earwax is its color:
- Light brown, yellow or orange: This is what fresh, healthy earwax usually looks like. Any of these colors are a sign your ears are staying nice and clean.
- Dark brown: It’s perfectly normal for earwax to get darker over time. This is just a sign that it has trapped more dirt and bacteria.
- White: People with Asian ancestry often have drier, whiter earwax. White earwax can also mean your body doesn’t have a certain odor-causing protein. Lucky you — you’ll never have to use deodorant!
Warning Signs of Infections
Your earwax can tell you if you have an infection or injury:
- Green earwax: A greenish or bluish tinge in your earwax is a pretty good sign an infection is beginning.
- Reddish-black earwax: This means you have some bleeding. It often happens for minor reasons, such as accidentally scratching your ear canal. If you have intense pain, however, the problem may be a severe ear infection.
- Watery fluid: Moist earwax is natural after showering, swimming or sweating. When you notice runny earwax all day long, though, it’s a symptom of swimmer’s ear, a mild infection.
- Strong smell: Healthy earwax shouldn’t have an odor. If yours smells bad, it’s a sign of infection or injury to the middle ear.
A common misconception is that ear infections always come with severe pain and high fever. In reality, those symptoms usually appear after the infection has gone on for a while.
Most people should never have to worry about cleaning earwax at home. Old earwax normally leaves naturally as you shower, getting rid of trapped dirt and making way for a fresh protective layer.
Some people produce too much earwax because of their genes. If this happens to you, it can seem like you’re losing your hearing, but it’s actually just a harmless blockage.
Never try to clean your ears with Q-tips or bobby pins. This just pushes old earwax further down and makes it harder to remove.
Visit an ear doctor if your ears feel clogged or swollen. ENT doctors have special treatment equipment that can get rid of earwax without causing you pain. They may recommend a home cleaning kit afterwards for periodically rinsing out earwax.
Earwax is pretty amazing. It traps germs and dust, kind of like what your tears and eyelashes do for your eyes. It's also a protective layer that covers your ear canal and keeps water out. This is important because the skin inside your ears is very sensitive.
Paying attention to earwax warning signs lets you catch infections while they’re still minor. Scheduling a quick doctor’s visit and using some ear drops can help you avoid the worst symptoms: pain, swelling, dizziness, hearing problems or a ruptured eardrum.
Keep those wonderful ears of yours safe!