Ear wax is a normal product of the ear and is not a sign of your ears being dirty. Essentially, ear wax is old, dead skin mixed with oil from glands located in and at the entrance to the canal. These glands secret an oily, sticky substance which is generally seen as tiny pearly drops on hairs located at the entrance to the canal. When we’re little, the glands often secrete more oil than when we’re older. The higher oil generation is most likely due to the ear canals being smaller at birth. People sometimes confuse this yellowish drainage with an ear infection and if the child has a fever, pulls on the ears and complains of pain, this needs to be checked out by a medical professional.
The oil softens the old skin, sanitizes the canal by keeping the PH slightly acidic which helps kill germs and is also a natural bug repellant due to its sour smell.
Particles found in the canal are mostly old dead skin but also dirt and other matter from the outside. These adhere to the sticky substance to form what we call wax. When the lining in the ear canal slowly moves out, this load of ear wax, old skin and dirt, being softened by the oil, as it is slowly exposed to the air, becomes dry and is often seen as flaky pieces of tissue. You simply use a washcloth at the opening to clear it away.
The ear canals are thus for most of us self-cleaning and there is very seldom a need to use any tools such as Q-tips, picks, candles, vacuums, nails, hairpins, long fingernails and the list goes on. These bad habits in many cases make it a problem by pushing the wax further in, bulldozing and often scraping the lining back into the bony portion, to the point the ear canal becomes raw, sore with redness, irritation and bleeding. It also removes the oil the ear canal needs.
Some people do this every day as a habit, never allowing their ear canals to find their normal state and do their job. This disruptive and vicious cycle makes the problem continually worse.
There are certainly people, young and old, who have problems with wax plugging up their canals. Children have small ear canals, especially as babies. The body knows it needs to make the ear wax flow like lava and compensates for that by increasing the production of the oily, golden colored cerumen. As we grow, the ear canals become larger, potentially becoming less prone to getting plugged up by wax and the oil secretions slow down.
Curvy and crooked ear canals sometimes pose a problem, especially as we age. For some people there is a significant shift between the cartilaginous and bony portions of the ear canal causing a narrowing where the particles tend to get stuck. There is also a tendency for the ceruminous glands to slow down their secretions, making the lining dryer and not being renewed so easily.
People who use hearing aids, ear plugs and those who cannot leave their ear canals alone but constantly have problems and irritate them daily by probing around with the above-mentioned tools, have the need for more frequent professional ear cleaning and guidance.
Professional ear canal cleaning is best done using a medical quality earscope, a.k.a. otoscope, best performed with magnification and allowing the examiner to remove any impacted wax without causing injury to either the lining of the ear canal or eardrum. Probing around blindly on your own is not in your best interest. Leave that to trained medical professionals.