Harvard Women's Health Watch

By the way, doctor: What can I do about earwax buildup?

Q. My doctor recently noticed lots of wax in my ear, almost blocking the canal. How did this happen? What should I do about it?

A. If the wax in your ear isn't causing any trouble, you needn't do anything about it. Earwax (cerumen) is made in the external auditory canal. Its function is protective. Normally, it forms a film on the surface of the skin lining the canal, helping shield the canal from damage by water, infection, or trauma. Earwax also traps particles, such as dust, and helps eliminate bacteria that could damage the canal or the delicate eardrum (tympanic membrane).

Cerumen is composed of an oily fluid secreted by sebaceous and ceruminous glands, mixed with sloughed-off skin, bits of hair, and other debris. The consistency of earwax ranges from liquid to rock-hard, depending on the amounts of each component and how long the wax has been in the canal. The higher the proportion of dead skin cells and hair and the longer the mixture has been in the ear canal, the harder the wax.

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