Ear wax is a completely natural wax-like substance, secreted by special glands in the skin on the outer part of the ear canal. Earwax assists in repelling water and trapping small dirt and dust particles from entering your inner ear canal.
Just the same way other seemingly gross bodies produce such as your saliva, urine, faeces can pinpoint some health challenges, your ear wax has the same ability to indicate what is happening inside your body.
The color and consistency of earwax (as with the other “gross stuff”) is important. As with pee, poop and spit, earwax should appear and feel a “certain” way.
With that in mind, if your earwax looks of feels like any of the ones listed below, you might need to be checked.
1. No earwax
If you notice an almost complete lack of earwax, which is usually noticeable when trying to clean your inner ear, there’s probably not much to worry about. However, it feelings of pain or stuffiness are present it could indicate a rare condition known as “keratitis obturans.” This condition basically causes a hard buildup of wax deep within the ear canal.
2. When your earwax is leaking
When debris accumulate within the ear canal, they will normally be discharged by natural mechanisms or cleaning of the ear canal. When these debris noticeably leak from the ear, it may indicate an abnormal skin growth called “cholesteatoma.”
Other symptoms of this condition include feelings of pain or pressure within the ear. These symptoms are the result of a “cyst-like” growth creating pressure within the canal. It’s a good idea to see a specialist.
3. When it is scaly or flaky
This is no big deal, really. As with many other glands, the cerumen loses moisture as it ages. As a result, our earwax will also scale or flake.
4. When your earwax smells
Earwax that gives off a strong and nasty odor may indicate either damage or infection in the middle part of the ear. The medical terminology for symptoms resulting from a damaged or infected middle ear is “otitis media.”
Aside from some nasty smelling earwax, you may notice some other symptoms of (acute or chronic) otitis media, including: fever, earache, fatigue and/or hearing loss.
5. When it is greenish and watery
There are one of two reasons why your earwax appears green and watery. First, if you’ve been sweating for any reason (e.g. exercise), it’s natural for the perspiration to make its way into the ear canal and mix with the wax, resulting in a watery, green discharge. Or, you have an ear infection. Aside from a greenish-tint, an ear infection may also produce a lovely dark yellow liquid mixture. Here’s another time when it’s probably a good idea to see the doc.