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What Does Dark Brown Earwax Mean

by Lyndon Langley
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What Does Dark Brown Earwax Mean

What Does Dark Brown Earwax Mean

Earwax is a substance produced by glands in your outer ears called cerumen (or just “earwax”). It protects your external and middle ear while you sleep — without it, dust and other particles could damage your hearing. The wax also helps balance sound waves as they enter the ear and keep moisture out of the ear drum. When you’re born, your earwax will be pink-pale and soft; but unlike the rest of your skin, your earwax doesn’t change much throughout life.
Your earwax changes over time because of several factors, including:
your age
the length of time you’ve been exposed to environmental pollutants
whether you smoke or drink alcohol
how often you sweat
where you live
and even what foods you eat
You can see why this is important: If you were covered head to toe in thick, dark gray skin, would you want someone pulling off layers of your skin? Probably not. But earwax isn’t exactly like that — at least when it’s all together. In fact, if you took the combined amount of all your earwax samples and squished them into one big glob, they’d probably look more like mashed potatoes than anything else. And earwax itself is actually pretty simple: It’s made up mostly of fatty acids along with cholesterol, proteins and pigments such as carotene [sources: Nesbitt et al.; Rabinowitz].
The most common type of earwax is light brown, which means it’s softer and easier to remove. Most people produce this kind of earwax until their 40s, then switch to hard, waxy earwax for the remainder of their lives. That said, we know little about how our earwax develops and why some people are naturally predisposed toward producing either of the two types. Scientists do know, however, that there are certain things that affect the development and composition of earwax. For example, smoking cigarettes disrupts the production of earwax, causing it to become thinner and less protective. On the next page, we’ll take a closer look at earwax.
Earwax Basics
If you read the previous section closely, you might have noticed something interesting: Your earwax is similar to the skin on your face, hands, feet and elsewhere. This makes sense, considering both protect us from the outside world. While your earwax serves an essential function, it can also cause problems if it becomes damaged or infected. Luckily, there are ways to treat these issues. First, let’s talk about the different kinds of earwax you should expect to encounter during your lifetime.
Light brown earwax – This is the most prevalent form of earwax found among adults. It’s soft enough to easily remove and usually appears creamy white, yellowish or tan in color. People who spend too long outside or use hair dyes sometimes develop thicker earwax.

Hard, waxy earwax – This variety forms after a person spends many years outdoors, or when he or she uses hair dye too frequently. Waxy earwax tends to be brittle and difficult to remove. As a result, hardened earwax can trap damaging chemicals, viruses and bacteria, leading to infections. It’s also harder to clean and dry properly, resulting in mildew buildup that leads to odor and water retention.

Bloody earwax – Sometimes referred to as “red earwax,” bloody earwax occurs when blood leaks through cracks in the eardrum. A person suffering from this condition might notice bright red earwax oozing from his ear canal. Bloody earwax can also occur when a piece of jewelry catches on the eardrum and tears a hole there.

While earwax is important for protecting our inner ears from noise, debris and infection, it can also cause problems if it gets stuck inside the ear. Let’s say you’re cleaning out your ears using cotton swabs, Q-tips, cotton balls and other tools. You might find yourself accidentally pushing in too far, puncturing your ear drum. Once that happens, earwax pours down your ear canal and collects around your ear drum. Over time, this can lead to blockage. To prevent this, experts recommend plugging the ear drum with a small ball of cotton dipped in Vaseline before you start cleaning. Doing so prevents earwax from collecting in the ear drum and potentially blocking it.
On the next page, we’ll learn about another reason earwax can get clogged.
One final thing about earwax: Some people worry about whether earwax builds up between their ears. They believe that it causes hearing loss, sinus pressure and earache. Although no research supports this claim, earwax does build up over time. However, studies show that earwax provides protection against fungus and bacteria, not against loud noises. So feel free to leave your earwax where it is — it’s doing a great job!
When earwax builds up in the ear canal, it can cause painful symptoms like fullness, pain and drainage. One way to relieve those symptoms is to insert earplugs. These plugs help drain the gunk away, allowing it to exit the ear without getting stuck. Earplugs aren’t always necessary, though — sometimes simply blowing gently on the ear can dislodge any excess earwax.
For severe cases, doctors suggest inserting earmuffs or earplugs filled with olive oil to soak up the earwax and soften it. Then, a doctor can remove the softened material with a needle. He or she can also prescribe a special decongestant medication to ease congestion caused by blocked earwax [sources: Mayo Clinic; Rabinowitz].
In addition to treating acute conditions, doctors may also need to perform surgery on patients whose ears are chronically plugged. During surgery, surgeons can make an opening in the ear drum large enough to allow air and fluid to pass freely. By doing so, they can clear the ear and reduce the risk of infection.
To learn more about earwax and related topics, visit the links on the following page.
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While earwax does provide protection, it can also cause inflammation and swelling. When earwax accumulates inside the ear drum, it triggers the release of histamine and other inflammatory agents. Histamines irritate the lining of the ear drum, causing it to swell and bleed. Even worse, the increased airflow can lead to vertigo and nausea. To avoid this unpleasant side effect, try keeping earwax out of the ear drum altogether. Instead, blow softly on your ear to loosen any excess earwax. Doctors also offer various methods to treat allergy attacks, including antihistamines and nasal spray treatments.

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