It’s not really a topic we talk about with our friends and family, but earwax is a part of life. an important part of life too, believe it or not.
What is earwax
Earwax, also known as cerumen, is a waxy substance produced in the outer ear. Its job is to help protect the ear by removing dead skin cells and foreign particles as well as killing and removing bacteria with its antibacterial properties as it slowly travels down the ear canal. While consistency and color can vary from person to person, it’s job is still the same.
It’s easy for many of us to see earwax as an annoyance that has to be cleaned out of our ears, but the smartest thing to do is to leave it right where it is to work it’s cleaning magic while it protects our ears from minor itchiness to more serious infections.
Why is my earwax black?
Earwax looks different for everyone, but it can be startling when your earwax changes appearance, especially when that change is drastic going from a lighter orange to brown or even black.
While it can be tempting to think the worst when you find black earwax in your ear, the chances are that there is a simple (and not terrifying) reason such as:
Earwax buildup – When ear wax doesn’t make its way down the ear canal fast enough, it can build up creating a darker color. This build-up can happen more frequently as you age and if you’re a man.
Compressed earwax – While earwax generally makes its way out through the ear canal at a slow and steady pace, many of the devices we now use can hinder that exit. Earplugs, hearing aids, earbuds and similar objects inserted into the ear canal block and compress ear wax causing a build-up. This buildup, again, can create a darker colored wax that may even become black.
Now that you’ve found it and know what may be causing it, what do you do about black earwax?
Treating black earwax
While finding black earwax is usually nothing to worry about, it is a good idea to visit your ENT the first time you experience it to rule out any other health conditions.
Once you’ve determined the likely cause of the darker earwax, there are a couple of ways to manage it.
Ear irrigation – Using a kit or other process suggested by your ENT, you will clean your ear canal with a solution to help wash away excess earwax.
Ear drops – These drops can be added to the ear canal to help soften earwax to help remove it
Avoid using cotton swabs, which can further compress earwax and skip the ear candles, which can damage the ear.
If these at-home treatments don’t work, your provider may remove the excess wax using irrigation, suction or specialized tools.
If you believe you have a build-up of earwax, black earwax or symptoms of pain, dizziness or ringing in the ears that may indicate a compressed earwax, contact us to schedule an appointment.