Facts About Wax

A little girl examines a little boy's ear with a magnifying glassLet’s talk about wax. No, not the candle kind, the ear kind. Earwax is made up of dead skin cells and a substance produced by small glands in the ear. The wax helps protect the ear canal from water, dirt, infection or injury. As it travels from the middle ear to the outer ear, the wax collects microscopic debris and then naturally falls away. While the odor and consistency might not be the most attractive substance that comes from the body, earwax acts as a natural moisturizer and protective coating.

You and Your Wax

The medical term for earwax is cerumen. It can be sticky, smelly, watery and even discolored, but it’s all related to the naturally occurring processes in the body. Dark or black colored wax may indicate that you have dirt or bacteria trapped in your ear. Red-tinged wax may indicate blood in the ear. Light brown, orange or yellow colors are all natural and healthy. Children tend to have softer, lighter colored wax, whereas adults produce darker and harder wax buildups.

The Dos and Don'ts

Mom always said to make sure you clean behind your ears and she was right not to take it further. You should not use the following to remove wax buildup:

  • Cotton swabs, hairpins or sharp instruments
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Ear candles
  • Consumer products that claim to vacuum wax or dust

The use of the above products may cause ear canal damage, eardrum rupture or infection. Technically, ears are self-cleaning, but warm, soapy water may help loosen excess wax. Speak with your doctor about using an over-the-counter wax softener.

If you feel that your child's ears may be impacted beyond the recommended outer cleaning, talk to your pediatrician about alternative options. Call (888) 487-0183 or contact us to find a pediatrician or a pediatric specialist near you.