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Why Is My Earwax Black

by Kristin Beck
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Why Is My Earwax Black

Why Is My Earwax Black

“Earwax is the waxy substance inside your ears that helps protect them from infection-causing microbes like fungi and bacteria. The stuff also serves as an excellent natural lubricant for hearing. It’s made up of cholesterol, fatty acids and other compounds, and it can be found in all mammals (including humans), birds and reptiles. In some animals, including bats, earwax contains pheromones — chemicals used by members of the same species to communicate with each other. Humans don’t use pheromones, but we do share our earwax with many other creatures.
In most people, earwax starts out light gray or white when they’re born. As time goes on, however, their earwax gradually darkens. This happens because adults tend to have darker, harder earwax than babies do. Children usually have lighter earwax than adults, and this changes during puberty. After age 40, earwax tends to become more porous and softer. Because earwax reflects sunlight rather than absorbs it, it makes sense that different colors would develop over time.
The composition of human earwax varies between individuals and even within the same person at different times. People who spend a lot of time outdoors are likely to have darker earwax than those who live indoors. That’s because outdoor activities such as swimming, biking or boating involve sweating, which causes moisture to build up in the outer ear canal. When sweat combines with earwax, you end up with sticky substances that attract dust and dirt particles. While these contaminants may not cause any problems while you’re outside, they can trigger ear infections if you spend lots of time indoors.
Your earwax can even change based on what season it is. Summertime earwax tends to be creamier than wintertime earwax, which is coarser. The reason why is unclear, but one theory suggests that earwax becomes thinner when exposed to cold air. Another explanation involves seasonal hormonal fluctuations. If you suspect that your earwax is changing shape, see a doctor.
As far as medical research shows, there isn’t much evidence that having black earwax is harmful. Some scientists think that earwax could help keep out viruses and fungi, though others disagree. One study showed that women with black earwax were less prone to contracting vaginal yeast infections than women with clear earwax. Still, doctors recommend cleaning your ears daily to reduce the risk of ear infections and wax buildup. You should also make sure that your earwax doesn’t look dirty; if it does, you might want to clean it regularly.
Next, find out how earwax gets into your ears in the first place.
Earrays and earwax
Most of us know that earwax protects our eardrums from foreign objects that could damage the delicate membranes. But did you know that earwax actually enters your ears through a tiny opening called the tympanic membrane? This thin sheet of tissue has three layers: a tough outer layer, a middle layer made of collagen and elastic fibers and an innermost layer of cells. Between the outer and middle layers is a space filled with fluid. The fluid allows sound waves to enter the ear drum without causing pressure. Once the ear drum vibrates, the fluid pushes against the drum itself. The middle layer then contracts, stretching the outer layer. When it stretches, the outer layer pulls away from the tympanic membrane, creating a small hole. At the same time, the fluid pushing against the ear drum forces it upward, increasing the amount of available air inside the ear. Finally, the ear drum expands again as the fluid leaves the ear. With the right combination of sounds and vibrations, the ear drum transmits these signals to the middle ear bones, allowing us to hear.
While earwax keeps the ear drum protected and provides additional protection from external noises, it also plays an important role in protecting the ear from fungus and bacteria. Most children get their initial exposure to earwax from their mothers’ breast milk. Babies who aren’t breastfed will ingest earwax via amniotic fluid, nasal secretions, saliva and food.
If you’ve ever picked up a magnifying glass and looked closely at earwax, you probably noticed that it takes on various shapes. There are two types of earwax — hard and soft. Hard earwax is produced mainly by glands in the outer ear. Its main function is to trap bacteria and debris that can harm the ear drum. Soft earwax is largely composed of fatty oils produced by the skin. These oils serve multiple functions, including providing a protective barrier around the ear drum and helping soften earwax.
Earwax is sometimes referred to as “”ear cheese”” because it looks similar to cheddar cheese. However, although both contain fat, the structure of earwax is very different from dairy products like butter and oil. For example, unlike butter and oil, earwax is tasteless and odorless.
Now that you understand how earwax works, read on to learn about another type of earwax.
You may wonder whether earwax affects the way you smell. Although the scent of garlic, onions and curry spices may linger in your hair after you cook dinner, earwax doesn’t contribute to body odors. Instead, the smells you notice come from sweat, urine and feces.”

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