We tend to think of earwax as a nasty annoyance that does nothing but clog up our ears and block the aural airwaves between our eardrums and the outside world. However, earwax does serve a useful purpose in there, protecting the ear canal from outside invaders like bacteria while also lubricating it so that it doesn’t become dry and itchy. Surprisingly, our earwax can also tell us several things about our health when we scrape it out of its dark abode. Get your Q-tips ready as we look at 6 Things Your Earwax is Trying to Tell You.
What It’s Saying When It’s Wet or Dry
Whether your earwax is wet or dry can tell you not just about your ancestral heritage but also about the potential odor you’re emitting. People of Asian descent tend to have dry earwax and less body odor, while Caucasians’ ear wax tends to be a wet, yellowy-brown, and their underarms tend to emit a more powerful odor. The cause? Odor-causing organic compounds in both the earwax and sweat, which differ by race. A study showed that while Caucasians and Asians each had the same 12 volatile compounds in their earwax, Caucasians had a higher volume of 11 of those compounds.
What It’s Saying When It’s Flaky
If your earwax has shifted from being a sludgy mass to being a dry, flaky one, there’s probably a simple reason for that: you’re getting older (aren’t we all?). That’s because of our glands, which include the modified sebaceous and apocrine glands in our ears responsible for our earwax production, tend to both shrink and become drier as we age. This has some benefits, as people tend to sweat less when they’re older, however, it also has some drawbacks, including dry eye, which is caused by a lack of secretions from the special glands around the eye.
What It’s Saying When It’s Stinky
If your earwax has an absolutely putrid odor to it, it’s probably trying to tell you that you have a middle ear infection or that the middle ear has been damaged. Given that these infections are often accompanied by noteworthy pain due to inflammation building up where there is little room to contain it, the smell of your earwax probably won’t be necessary to detect it. Nonetheless, if you notice a bad smell wafting off your earwax before you notice other symptoms like pain or balance issues, you’ll want to have your ear checked out.
What It’s Saying When It’s A Watery, Greenish Color
This is probably the most distressing kind of earwax visually, as it takes on a watery form that will ooze out of your ears. While watery earwax in itself is not uncommon, as it can be caused by sweat mixing with your earwax, if that watery earwax also happens to be a greenish color and is being discharged even when you’re not sweating, then chances are it’s telling you that you have an ear infection. Bacteria like pseudomonas can cause a greenish drainage from your ear and could cause swimmer’s ear or lead to a more serious infection.
What It’s Saying When You Don’t Have Enough of It
If you don’t seem to be producing much or any earwax at all, it’s possible that you’re developing a blockage, which is concentrating all of your earwax buildup into a hard plug. When such a plug develops, you’re likely to experience several symptoms, which include earaches, the sensation of your ear being full, and ringing or other noises. The latter symptom could also mean that your blockage has caused you to develop tinnitus, which can lead to either enhanced or muffled hearing, in addition to noises like ringing, hissing, or buzzing in your ears. The removal of the blockage may clear up the tinnitus.
What It’s Saying When You Have Too Much of It
If you seem to be producing too much earwax it could be that you’re constantly being wracked by stress or fear. Just as too much stress or fear can cause you to sweat, it can also cause your earwax production to kick into high gear. That’s because the same scent gland that produces smelly sweat on our skin also secretes wax into our ears, that being our apocrine gland. Medications that have an effect on our fight-or-flight response (like beta blockers) can also lead to greater earwax production for the same reason.