Earwax (Cerumen) is a combination of secretions from oil and sweat glands, mixed with dead skin and hairs.
Wax forms a protective acidic coat. Normal earwax makes the canal waterproof and has a natural protection against infections. Wax is only made in the outer ear canal, and makes a sticky mound that keeps out water and traps dust and insects.
New skin cells are constantly made in the middle of the eardrum – this is why ear drum perforations heal so rapidly. These skin cells take 6 months to gradually migrate out to the ear canal entrance, the skin lining moves out like a conveyor belt. New wax drops onto the skin making it waterproof and becomes a protective layer against infections. The wax at the entrance dissolves the skin. As it moves out of the ear canal entrance we are able to just wipe away today’s wax.
The colour of people’s ear wax varies from almost colourless grey to nearly black. Most people have golden brown coloured wax. All wax becomes darker over time.
There are many types of wax. When there is a high skin content it can be very hard. If it is mostly wax it can be very runny and soft. Some people’s wax is dry and flaky and in some it is extremely sticky. Normal wax has no smell.
All ear canals have curves, these protect the ear drum when objects enter. Some people have more severe s-bends than others. As we age the outer canal ‘drops’ with the wrinkle process, but the bony inner canal remains the same, this causes the ear canal entrance to become oval, therefore more narrow. At the same time as we age our skin production slows down tending to make wax thicker and stickier – so it’s no wonder it gets stuck!
Because wax glands are modified sweat glands, the same things that make you sweat (fear, anxiety, stress) can also make your wax glands pump out extra wax.