Earwax plays an important role in the health of your ear. Also called cerumen, it is produced by glands in the skin of the outer ear canal in order to catch and remove debris and bacteria. Earwax naturally works its way out of the ear canal thanks to the anatomy of the ear itself as well as through natural jaw movements when talking or chewing.
The color of your earwax can help you determine whether your ears are healthy or not.
Healthy, normal earwax can be a variety of colors, including:
- Off-white/yellow. This color indicates fresh earwax. Earwax of this color is likely found deep in the ear canal.
- Dark orange. This color is less fresh and may be found closer to the outer ear. This earwax can be sticky or flaky, and likely has picked up some debris.
- Pale orange. Earwax that is pale orange is likely dry and flaky. It is a sign of old earwax.
- Brown. This earwax is very old and is most likely thick and sticky in texture. This earwax is most commonly found in the outer ear.
Earwax can also signal if there is an issue like an infection or heavy debris in the ear.
- Green. This earwax color typically indicates infection. If you notice pus or a foul smell along with green earwax, it’s important to see a doctor right away.
- Red/streaked. If your earwax is red or streaked with red, it means there is blood present. This could be due to a scratch, injury or bug bite in the ear canal. If it’s also wet and runny, it likely indicates a ruptured eardrum.
- Gray. This likely indicates that there is a buildup of dust or other particles in the ear, and you could be at risk of impacted earwax.
- Black. This indicates impacted earwax, which can be painful and is also associated with mild hearing loss and/or tinnitus.
Earwax texture can vary based on age of wax, genetics and age. A study from 2006, for example, found that people of East Asian descent tend to have dryer, flakier earwax. In addition, children tend to have earwax that is softer in texture than adults.
For more information about ear health or to schedule an appointment for removal of impacted earwax, call Topeka ENT!