7 Types Of Earwax And What They Tell Us

Your ear wax can tell you about the quality of your health

Bodily fluids make most of us queasy, which is why it might have such a hard time talking about them. It can seem disgusting, but these fluids and their colors and texture can tell us a lot about what is happening inside our body. All of us know that the color and quality of our pee, poop and mucus is used in lab tests to see if we are suffering from any health issues, and this case is true for ear wax too. Even if it isn’t as informative as other fluids, ear wax can be quite telling. Earwax, also known as cerumen, helps to keep dirt and bacteria from getting inside your ear canal. Below are 7 different types you may find coming out of your ears and what it might mean:

1. Sticky And Dry

Normal earwax

Most of the time, we either have sticky wax or dry wax coming out of your ears, and the one you end up with gives you clues about your genetic makeup. There is research published in the Nature Genetics journal that states most people of Asian descent tend to have dry wax, while most people from African or European descent have sticky or “wet” wax. The researchers believe this is because of the genetic adaptation to the climates in which our ancestors have evolved.

2. Watery With A Greenish Tint

Too much sweating or an infection

This can be due to excessive sweating. The sweat sometimes runs down your head and go into the ear, and then mixes with the wax that has already accumulated. However, if you haven’t been sweating and the watery wax is greenish or dark yellow, this could be indicative of an ear infection. If you find this type of wax and pain in your ear, visit a doctor as soon as possible.

3. Strong Odor

Infection or damage

A strong odor indicates an ear infection, or that you have damage in the middle part of your ear. An infection is treated through antibiotics and ear drops over a period of time. If it is damage tot he middle part of the ear, this foul smelling wax will also be accompanied by a ringing in the ears, problems with the sense of balance, or a sensation that your ear is blocked. The putrid odor could also be due to a condition called chronic otitis media, which is a block in the tube connecting the middle of the ear and the back of the nose. This condition can be painful, and has “foul smelling draining” from the ear as a primary symptom. All of these conditions require an immediate doctor’s appointment.

4. Leaking Out Of The Ear

Inner tear

If you find that your ear wax is coming out in a trickle, or that clumps are being pushed out of your ear without you doing anything, it could be due to an infection or a tear inside your ear drum. This infection or tear can lead to the formation of an abnormal skin growth called a “cholesteatoma”, which is a cyst like structure that leads to debris from the ear filling up the ear canal, which is then pushed out. Pain and pressure in the ear are also symptoms of cholesteatoma.

5. No Wax

Rare condition

If you find that you have absolutely no ear wax coming out of your ears, there is a tiny chance that you have a rare condition called keratitis obturans. The condition is not fully understood, but it involves a wax build up deep inside your ear that isn’t pushed out and continues until there is a hard plug inside that needs to be attended to by a doctor.  This comes with other symptoms like pain and fullness in the ear.

6. White And Flaky

Normal ageing

Wax that is more flaky than sticky just means that you are getting older. As we age, the glands in our body tend to dry out, which means that ear wax will not be clumped. White wax is usually seen in people who have a recessive gene and produce less body odor.

7. Gray

Polluted area

Gray ear wax is the result of dust buildup inside the ear, and though it might seem unhealthy, it is just a sign that your ear wax is doing its job well. It could be that you live in a very polluted area, or are surrounded by too much dust through the day.