Ear wax is a yellowy-orange, waxy substance that is found in the ear canal of humans and other mammals. The medical term for ear wax is cerumen and excess, or compacted cerumen, can cause hearing difficulties. Ear wax is secreted by the ear to protect the skin of the ear canal and assist with cleaning and lubrication. Ear wax is able to provide some protection from bacteria, fungi, insects and water entering the inner ear. When the ear wax dries it falls out of the ear taking with it any trapped dust or debris.
What is ear wax made out of?
Ear wax is made in the outer ear canal. This is the section of the ear between the outside, fleshy part of the ear and the middle ear. Specialized glands in the wall of the outer ear called the sebaceous glands and apocrine sweat glands secrete the substance that we know as ear wax. Ear wax is mostly comprised of shed layers of skin with over 60% of ear wax being made up of keratin. Keratin is the fibrous protein that the outer layer of human skin in made up of. Other substances in ear wax include cholesterol (6-9%), saturated and unsaturated long-chain fatty acids, squalene and alcohols.
Interesting facts about ear wax
- An increase in ear wax production can be linked to stress, fear and anxiety which cause the glands in the outer ear canal to secrete more ear wax.
- Generally speaking, people of Asian or Native American descent have dry ear wax whilst people of European or African descent have moist ear wax.
- The movement of the jaw helps with the removal of ear wax.
- Trying to clean the ear out using a q-tip or your finger can actually cause the wax to compact and move further back in the ear.
- Some of the symptoms of ear wax blockage include, decreased hearing, dizziness, ear pain and ringing in the ear.
- In medieval times ear wax and urine were used as pigments for scribes and to color illustrations.
- In the 1800’s ear wax was used to treat cracked lips and some minor scrapes and wounds.
- The amount of ear wax in a whale’s ear is sometimes used to determine its age, especially if the whale has no teeth.