What is earwax?

Eliza Parker
Eliza Parker on behalf of MDLIVE
Earwax is great stuff! The medical term for earwax is cerumen. Cerumen is made up of skin cells and a waxy substance produced by little cells in the ear canal called sebaceous glands and modified sweat glands. Earwax is made to protect the skin lining of the ear canal and helps the ear clean itself, it also protects against water, some bacteria and some fungus! While too much earwax can interfere with hearing and needs to be cleaned out by a health care professional this is the exception, not the rule. In general most people make just the right amount of earwax for their ears and frequent removal is not necessary!
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Are you like the 85 percent of respondents to an poll who said they use cotton swabs to clean their ears? Dr. Oz, Vice-Chair and Professor of Surgery at Columbia University, says you may as well be "taking a muzzle-loader and shoving it in there."

"Wax is the sweat that the body deposits in the ear lining," he says. "When our ancestors were walking along in the sub-Saharan desert, the dust would get caught like an insect trap and prevent it from getting into your eardrum. When you take this cotton swab and you start shoving that wax into your eardrum, you risk not only blocking off the pathway, but you also risk perforating-making a hole-in your eardrum which is just a millimeter thick."

If you have an excessive buildup of earwax and want to get rid of it, Dr. Oz suggests using "a little mineral oil, drop it in there, it will melt it, and it will come out by itself. You don't have to go plunging in there."

So what are you supposed to be using those cotton swabs in your medicine cabinet for anyway? "Taking off makeup," Dr. Oz says.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.