While using Q-tips and cotton swabs to clean ears is usually considered unsafe among healthcare professionals, there is certainly a lot to be learned from earwax. The color, quantity, and consistency of earwax, while somewhat variable according to a person’s age, ancestry, and lifestyle, can be a huge indication of underlying issues.
Here are six earwax characteristics to look out for and what they could tell you about your health.
1. Dry, Flaky Earwax
If dry, flaky earwax falls from your ears or the visible part of your ear canal looks dry, this could indicate that the skin conditions eczema or psoriasis are present. If you suffer from eczema or psoriasis elsewhere on your body, it may appear as a red rash or patches of dry, irritated skin.
Treatment for eczema, as per Mayo Clinic, may include topical creams to control the itching, and oral medication to fight the underlying infection.
2. Yellow, Green, White, or Black Earwax
Typically, earwax is light orange or brown in color. New earwax tends to be lighter in color; it darkens slightly as it collects debris. Yellow, green, white, or black earwax, on the other hand, could show that you have an infection in your ear.
While the word “infection” can arouse concern, most ear infections are easily treatable with antibiotics. Inner or middle ear infections, as per Healthline, are largely triggered by colds or other respiratory issues; outer ear infections can occur if water becomes trapped inside the ear after swimming or bathing. The condition is aptly named “swimmer’s ear.”
3. Smelly Earwax
Healthy earwax doesn’t have much of an odor. If you, or someone who gets physically close to you, notices that your ears have an odor, then be sure to visit your doctor for an examination.
According to Medical News Today, earwax with an unpleasant-smelling odor could indicate injury or infection.
4. Dripping Earwax
Ears can sweat, just like every other part of the body. But if you ever notice that earwax is dripping from your ears, or see earwax stains on your pillow after a night’s sleep, this is a sign to head to the doctor for an ear health checkup.
Most of the time, as per Medline Plus, fluid leaking out of the ear is simply excess earwax and may indicate a need for professional ear cleaning. A ruptured eardrum, however, can cause a white, bloody, or yellow discharge from the ear; this should be treated by a doctor as quickly as possible to prevent long-term damage.
5. Itchy Ears
Persistently itchy ears, much like persistent itching anywhere on the body, may indicate irritation owing to a skin condition or an infection. Resist the temptation to scratch; itching may require a topical treatment, so be sure to visit with your doctor.
6. Blocked Ears
If your ears feel “full” or your hearing is compromised, your ear canal may be blocked by earwax plugs. A medical professional will be able to remove the blockage safely and restore your ear canals to their normal, clear state.
Healthy earwax plays a pivotal role in maintaining good ear health. It helps remove dirt and debris from the ear canal, it prevents foreign bodies from reaching the ear drum, and it even helps guard against germs.
We can all play our part in helping our earwax do its job by keeping tabs on its condition; our ears, and our bodies, will thank us for it in the long run.