Earwax—or "cerumen," to use what Comer calls its "50-cent term"—helps keep dirt and bacteria from getting too far inside your ear canal. "People seem to worry about it a lot, and they ask if they're making too much or too little, or about the color," he says. "But it's not like snot where those little things can tell us a lot."
While earwax may not excite your doctor the way boogers do, there are still some things your ear goop can tell you about your health. Here are 6 of them.
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It's watery, and has a greenish tint.
If you've been sweating, a watery discharge from your ear is probably the result of your perspiration leaking down into your ear and mixing with the wax, Comer says. But if you haven't been sweating, and the watery wax is greenish or dark yellow, that could indicate an ear infection, he says.
It's sticky, or dry.
It has a strong odor.
You may have an infection or damage in the middle part of your ear. This can lead to a number of symptoms that, together, doctors refer to as "chronic otitis media." One of those symptoms: "You could get a foul-smelling drainage from your ear," Comer says. If your middle ear is messed up, you may also notice problems with your sense of balance, a ringing in your ears, or the sensation that your ear is full or blocked. See your doc.
Infections or tears inside your eardrum can lead to the formation of an abnormal skin growth called a "cholesteatoma," Comer explains. "It's a kind of a cyst-like structure that leads to debris from the ear filling up the ear canal." Rather than the imperceptible discharge you're used to, ear gunk may come out in a noticeable trickle or clump. Pressure and pain in your ear are also symptoms of a cholesteatoma.
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You don't seem to have any.
You're not sick. You're just getting older. "As people age, the wax tends to get more flaky as opposed to like peanut butter," Comer says. Don't freak out. "Glands in general tend to dry out as we get older," he explains.