WHAT IS EARWAX?
Cerumen, sometimes known as earwax, is a natural substance found in our ears. Special glands on the outer half of the skin lining the ear canal manufacture it. It has a thick, or viscous texture and a yellowish-brown colour.
The colour of the wax is determined by genetics. Earwax primarily serves to trap dust and other dirt particles, preventing them from reaching the eardrum. The dust and dirt-laden earwax will eventually be transferred slowly to the canal's outer opening by the migration of the upper layer of the ear skin. The "older" wax dries out and falls away as it reaches the opening of the ear canal.
WHAT ARE THE FUNCTIONS OF EARWAX?
Aside from trapping dust and dirt, earwax also provides protection to the ear by preventing infection and inflammation. Because of the acidic nature of the wax and the powerful enzyme (lysozyme) it contains, it inhibits the growth of both bacteria and fungus in the ear. Due to its oily nature, earwax also provides a waterproof layer for the canal skin thereby preventing water accumulation, penetration and skin maceration.
WILL EARWAX CAUSE PROBLEMS?
Under normal conditions, earwax will not cause any ear problems. There are some instances whereby wax will be troublesome. The most common condition is called "wax impaction." This normally occurs from attempts to remove the wax using cotton buds or other implements. These objects cause the wax to be pushed into the deeper part of the ear or cause the wax to become tightly packed, preventing normal migration towards the outer part of the ear.
Other conditions that might predispose the child to earwax related problems:
- Wearing of hearing aids
- Over production of wax
- Abnormal shape of ear canal ( e.g. narrow ear canals)