Ask Fuzzy: Why do we have earwax?

Q: Why do we have earwax?

A: Your ear canal is coated for with wax for much the same reason that you wax your car – mostly for protection. The waxy lining protects and moisturises the skin, and provides some protection from bacteria and fungi. It even repels insects.

The wax is produced in Sebaceous glands, and migrates towards the outer ear in a conveyor belt motion, carrying dirt as it goes. Being sticky helps it trap dust and other particles. It is helped along by the pumping action generated by movement of the jaws.

Earwax, technically known as cerumen, is a mix of substances including dead skin, fatty acids, alcohol, and cholesterol. There are two types. The ‘‘dry’’ variety is grey and flaky, while the ‘‘wet’’ is honey-brown to dark-brown and moist. lf you live in a very dry climate, you wax is likely to be drier than someone who lives in a humid climate.

A build-up of wax can cause some problems such as earache and mild hearing loss. This is more likely if you have narrow or hairy ear canals, or work in a dusty environment. Some people naturally produce more wax than others.

The problem if you do try to clean your earwax is that cotton buds can push the it further into the ear, which only makes it worse. There’s also a risk that you’ll damage the delicate ear drum, and standard medical advice is that you should not put anything into your ear smaller than your elbow. As with all health issues, if you’re concerned, ask your doctor.

Also not recommended, is ear candling. The lighted candle supposedly cleans your ears. Various websites spruiking this remedy contain vague descriptions such as ‘‘energy flows’’, and ‘‘reflex points’’. At best, it is ineffective and at worst you may end up with a dollop of hot wax in your ear.

Response from Rod Taylor, Fuzzy Logic.

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