Okay let’s first start by defining cerumen…
/noun/ technical term for earwax
Cerumen is the fancy name for EARWAX!
FUN FACT: Earwax is not actually WAX… Cerumen is essentially a combination of:
- skin cells that have fallen off from inside of the ear
- bits of hair
- secretions from the glands in the ear canal
Earwax is meant to protect! The main purpose of earwax is to trap dust and other small particles to prevent them from reaching and potentially damaging or infecting the eardrum. According to the Cleveland Clinic, cerumen has both lubricating and antibacterial properties.
Let’s dig a little deeper…
Ears are self-cleaning
For most people, ears might never need cleaning—they are designed to clean themselves!
This “conveyor belt” process has been shown in studies to be an ongoing, normal process in most individuals. Your ears are built to naturally remove old earwax through the ear canal by motions of chewing and other jaw movements. Once earwax reaches the outside of the ear, it dries up and flakes off!
FUN FACT: Earwax is produced in the outer part of the ear canal, not deep inside the ear- so stop digging!
Now, what is “cerumen impaction”?
Cerumen (earwax) impaction refers to the buildup of layers of earwax within the ear canal to the point of blocking the canal and putting pressure on the eardrum.
…Ironically, cerumen impaction is often caused by misguided attempts to remove earwax!
WebMD says the most common cause of earwax impaction is the use of Q-tips or other AT-HOME removal attempts.
This blockage often happens when people use items like cotton swabs, bobby pins or rolled napkin corners into their ears to try to clean them. Sticking these small objects into your ear, only pushes the earwax further into the ear canal and can also cause injury to the ear.
Hearing aid and earplug users are also more prone to earwax impaction, and unhealthy amounts of earwax buildup can lead to infection.
Morgan Heinrich is a Fort Worth, TX- based freelance journalist. She also works at Eosera Inc. in Dallas, Texas. She covers healthcare technology, public affairs issues, and an array of other areas. Morgan graduated from Texas Christian University with a BA in journalism.