We all know what earwax is – it’s that sometimes sticky, sometimes flaky stuff that can be found in our ears and is generally thought to be fairly disgusting. But it is a lot more than that. Its official name is cerumen, and it is made from dead skin cells, lysozyme (an antibacterial enzyme), cholesterol, squalene (containing vitamin D), fatty acids, and naturally occurring alcohols. For the most part, earwax is an extremely useful hygiene tool in the body, which is why, unless it is causing hearing or other health problems, it is best to leave your earwax alone, and not try to clean it away using cotton buds or similar cosmetic items.
The main job that earwax does is to protect your ear canal. It does this by capturing any dust, germs, bacteria, or other unwanted foreign objects and preventing them from going any deeper into your ear where they could cause infection or damage. Trapping the dirt in this way keeps the bacterial growth low and slow, so your ears can fight against it more easily, and your hearing will be less affected. Earwax is also the reason that only a little water ever enters your ear (if any) when swimming or bathing. Too much water would irritate the ear canal, and cause infection.
Ideally, your earwax should never have to be removed either by yourself or by a professional. This is because it normally exits the ear automatically. Chewing, talking, generally moving the jaw around helps it on its way, and when it reaches the outer ear it falls away or is washed away during a bath or shower. Trying to remove the earwax yourself, before it is ready, can cause numerous problems. These include pushing the earwax deeper and causing temporary hearing loss, impaction, and damage to the eardrums which, in some circumstances, cannot be repaired.