Earwax is a good thing, but too much of a good thing can often cause serious problems. Earwax, (or cerumen), is a combination of sweat, dead skin cells from the inner ear, and sebum (a waxy oil secreted from the glands inside the ear canal). Although it may seem gross, it is a naturally occurring substance that lubricates and protects the inside of the ear from dirt, bacteria, and anything else that might try to sneak its way into the ear canal.
Earwax comes in many different colors, depending on your age and genetic makeup. Anywhere from yellow to light brown indicates healthy earwax. However, if your wax is dark brown it is probably old, impacted, and has all sorts of gross stuff in it like dirt, bugs, and hair. Yuck! If your earwax has any red coloration, go see your doctor; you could have bleeding or an infection.
Don’t worry, not all earwax is bad! However, too much can lead to hearing loss, pain, and even worse. One of the most common earwax related health issues is cerumen (or earwax) impaction, which occurs when wax starts to clog the ear canal. Everyday movement of the jaw from chewing and talking typically pushes earwax out of the ear. However, in some cases this isn’t enough to get rid of all the sticky stuff.
The self-cleaning process of earwax can be curbed by the presence of objects in the ear, such as hearing aids or ear buds. Over time, wax can build up within the ear, blocking the eardrum. The eardrum doesn’t have to be completely blocked for you to start having trouble hearing. Any blockage of the eardrum that causes symptoms or obstructs vision into the ear is considered cerumen impaction.