Earwax: The Booger Of The Ear

The other day I was having a little bit of stomach pain so I went to the doctor. When the doctor came into the room, she went through the typical medical routine. She took my temperature, blood pressure, and height/weight.

Next she pulled out her little lighted medical magnifying glass thing to look into my ears.

I have gone through that routine dozens of times, and I don’t think I have ever once had a doctor comment on my ears. I sort of just always assumed that they couldn’t actually see anything and that it was more for show. Much like that triangular rubber mallet thing they use to test your reflexes.

So I was caught off guard when the doctor looked into my ears and said, “Oh wow, do your ears hurt?”

“Umm, no,” I responded. “Should they??”

“You must use a lot of cotton swabs, because your right ear is almost completely impacted with earwax,” the doctor said. “You shouldn’t put those things in your ears.”

“Really?” I said. “I thought those things were made to clean out your ears.”

The doctor went on to explain that I should not put cotton swabs into my ears because, although I may clean out some earwax, I am more likely to push globs of earwax deep into my ear canal and clog my ear.

She sounded very convincing, but despite her medical training I figured I knew better. So when I got home I decided to look at the box of cotton swabs to see what they said. I assumed it would say something like, “these are great for ears, don’t listen to your doctor.”

You can imagine my surprise when I read the following:

“CAUTION: Do not enter ear canal. Use only as directed. Entering the ear canal could cause injury. Keep out of reach of children.”

Who knew??

I always just assumed earwax was like the booger of the ears and that you should clean it out daily much like you would use a tissue to clean out a “bat in the cave.”

I’d built cleaning out my ears into my morning routine, right there along with putting on deodorant, brushing my teeth and wondering if it is okay to wear the same pair of unwashed jeans for the fifth day in a row.

All this got me wondering, if earwax is not the booger of the ear what is it?

That’s what I’ll cover in today’s Wonder Why Wednesday…

According to Medical News Today, earwax, also known as cerumen, is “a yellowish waxy material that is produced by the sebaceous gland in the ear canal inside the ear.” Made up of mainly of shed layers of skin, earwax lubricates and protects the ear canal by repelling water, trapping dirt and preventing insects, fungi and bacteria from harming the eardrum.

MNT goes on to say that earwax even has antibacterial properties and without earwax, the ear canal would become very dry, waterlogged and infected.

Medical News Today backs up my doctors claim that cotton swabs simply push earwax deep into the ear. The website says that the majority of earwax does not need to be cleaned out at all because it simply falls out on its own.

So there we have it. Not only is earwax nothing like the booger of the ear, it is actually used to protect the ear and keep it healthy. And you don’t have to worry about cleaning it because the excess earwax simply falls out when it is no longer needed.

I don’t know about you, but I find that to be equal parts interesting and disgusting. I am glad that earwax is keeping my ear healthy, but I am a little grossed out that now I know my house is littered with old earwax that has been falling out of my ear over all these years.

Now the next thing I am wondering is…what do I do with a giant box of unused cotton swabs??

I guess I could paint some red and some blue and challenge people to tiny American Gladiator fights.


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)