When I was little, before I left for school every morning, my mom would check my ears. If there was any sign of earwax, back up stairs I went to wipe out any build up. Turns out, my mom was pretty smart to check because earwax can reveal a lot about your health.
Signs of earwax buildup include: Sudden or partial hearing loss, which is usually temporary; tinnitus, which is a ringing or buzzing in the ear; a feeling of fullness in the ear; and most commonly earaches.
Symptoms of Infection: Earwax buildup can lead to an infection. You should see your doctor if you experience any of the following: severe pain in your ear; pain in your ear that doesn’t go away; drainage from your ear; fever; coughing; persistent hearing loss; an odor coming from your ear; or dizziness.
How does earwax build up? According to Healthline: The ear canal produces a waxy oil called cerumen, which is more commonly known as earwax. This wax protects the ear from dust, foreign particles, and microorganisms. It also protects ear canal skin from irritation due to water. In normal circumstances, excess wax finds its way out of the canal and into the ear opening naturally, and then is washed away. When your glands make more earwax than necessary, it may get hard and block the ear. When you clean your ears, you can accidentally push the wax deeper, causing a blockage. Wax buildup is a common reason for temporary hearing loss.
What do different types of earwax mean?
Green or Yellow: “Normal earwax ranges from light orange to dark brown, but if it’s yellow, green, white, or black, that suggests an infection and you need to see a doctor,” says Benjamin Tweel, MD, an otolaryngologist at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Dry or dark: If you notice your earwax feels thicker, drier, or darker than normal, that could be a sign of general aging. “As people get older, their earwax gets drier and flakier,” Dr. Tweel says.
Smelly Earwax: Your earwax should never have an odor; if it does, that signals an infection. “In my experience, it’s the patient who notices a smell, but it’s very possible other people might bring it up as well,” says Dr. Tweel.
Earwax that drips out: If you wake up with earwax on your pillow, or crusty buildup on your earlobe, those are signs of an ear infection or chronic ear disease.
Flaky earwax: “People can actually get eczema in the ear, too, but it’s pretty easily treated,” says Dr. Tweel. This earwax consistency, possibly accompanied by soreness, could also be a sign of psoriasis, though this is less common.
Earwax you can feel: “If you have a persistent feeling of earwax in your canal, that could mean it’s blocked and needs to be cleaned out by your doctor,” Dr. Tweel says.
Itchy Earwax: If you’re constantly digging in your ears to relieve an itch, it might be a sign that something’s wrong. Itching in or around the ear canal could mean you have an infection.
You should avoid trying to dig out an earwax buildup yourself. You could push the blockage deeper and cause major damage to your ear. Only use cotton swabs on the outer portion of your ears when cleaning them. To soften any earwax you can purchase over-the-counter drops made specifically for removal. You can also use the following substances: mineral oil, hydrogen peroxide, carbamide peroxide, baby oil, and glycerin.
Another way to remove earwax buildup is by irrigating the ear. Never attempt this if you have an ear injury or have had a medical procedure done on your ear. Irrigation of a ruptured eardrum could cause hearing loss or infection. If you often deal with wax buildup, a routine ear irrigation may help prevent ear wax accumulation.
To properly irrigate your ear, follow the directions provided with an over-the-counter kit, or follow these steps: Stand or sit with your head in an upright position. Hold the outside of your ear and pull it gently upward. With a syringe, send a stream of body-temperature water into your ear. Water that’s too cold or too warm can cause dizziness. Allow water to drain by tipping your head.
Brooke Bailey is a personal trainer, masseuse, and student in health and wellness. She currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Follow her on Facebook.