Ear wax is a normal body substance produced by glands in the ear canal. It is called cerumen. It is a substance made of bodily secretion, skin cells, dirt, and hair. Cerumen is produced to protect the ear. It is meant to trap objects, dust, debris, and bacteria from entering deeper into the ear canal and damaging the ear.
Cerumen is our body’s way of self-cleaning the ear. However, some people produce excessive wax or smelly ear wax.
Sometimes, the wax becomes trapped in the ear canal because the canal is narrow. Wax can become harder and drier with age making it more difficult to expel. There is no hygienic reason to rid one’s ear of wax. It does not cause harm unless it becomes excessively built up and pushed deep into the ear canal impacting against the eardrum causing a temporary hearing loss.
Some people make more and others make less. The consistency, color, and makeup of earwax can depend on age, ethnicity, environment, and diet. Research indicated that most people of Asian descent have dry ear wax while African and European descent more often have a sticky or wet consistency. Wax can change color. The darker it is, the longer it has typically been in the ear.
However, if ear wax smells it should be evaluated. Smelly ear wax is usually a sign of an underlying infection or other medical condition behind the ear wax. It is best to see a doctor for wax removal and for inspection of the ear after removal to check for infection.
What causes smelly ear wax?
Excessive ear wax can trap bacteria or water causing an ear infection or swimmer’s ear type of infection. A smell usually indicates an infection of some type. Ear infections can be bacterial or viral. Ear infections often cause drainage and can have a bad smell.
Swimmer’s Ear typically is an infection that occurs with water being trapped in the ear canal harboring bacteria. Excessive ear wax can trap water behind it making one more prone to ear infections. A foreign object in the ear could also lead to bacterial buildup around the object or cause water to be trapped behind it.
Cholesteatoma is a noncancerous growth in the middle ear that when left untreated can damage the middle ear and inner ear structures, ultimately leading to permanent damage to hearing and balance systems. Cholesteatomas often lead to ear infections with a constant discharge.
Cholesteatomas are serious due to expanding growth into the inner ear and need to be closely monitored. Surgical removal is often needed. Another serious medical condition to rule out is ear cancer. Cancer growing in the middle ear and ear canal can cause a breakdown of the thin skin in the ear canal due to necrosis. This can lead to skin infections where smelly discharge and bloody discharge is common.
How is smelly ear wax treated?
Many people attempt to clean wax themselves before seeing a professional. Q Tips are the most common tool used to remove wax at home and often cause the most problems. Most of the time a Qtip will just push the wax further and it could be impacted against your ear drum.
Over-the-counter kits like Debrox can work to soften and flush out smelly ear wax. Often excessive wax becomes too hard and deep to be removed at home. Stay away from ear candling. Ear candling has been known to cause injury with burns to the face, outer ear, and ear canal and does little to actually remove the wax.
Professionals are able to remove even impacted deep wax with lighted tools, and softening agents The use of suction and irrigation may be needed for deep hard wax. A new method of removal is the Earigator. It is a machine made to irrigate the ear with water but the water pressure is regulated to withstand the pressure of the eardrum without damage.
If you have smelly ear wax, see an audiologist or ENT. They have the proper skills and tools to not only remove the wax but to see what is the cause of the smelly discharge (infection or other medical condition).
Smelly ear wax can be removed by softening with the use of peroxide or other over-the-counter softening agents and removed professionally with a pick, suction, or water irrigation. The audiologist will evaluate if ear drops or further medication is needed to manage the infection.
What is the Earigator ear wax removal method?
The Earigator ear wax removal method is a specialized technique employed by audiologists to safely and effectively remove excessive or impacted earwax from a patient’s ear canal. Unlike traditional methods like earwax drops or cotton swabs that can sometimes push the wax further in, an Earigator uses a controlled stream of warm water to flush out the earwax buildup. This method is considered highly efficient and minimizes the risk of injury to the delicate structures of the ear canal. If you’re experiencing issues with earwax buildup, consulting with an audiologist experienced in Earigator ear wax removal can provide you with a safe and effective solution.
What is the outlook for smelly ear wax?
The good news is ear wax is easily removed by a trained physician or audiologist. The majority of cases will simply be due to an ear infection easily treated with drops. However, it is always best to see an ENT who can evaluate the ear and ensure a healthy ear canal and middle ear space.
Do I have too much earwax?
Wax is not a problem unless it blocks hearing, causes discomfort, or is smelly, indicating an underlying medical issue.
Wax falling out of ear – is it normal?
What if a huge piece of ear wax fell out of my ear? The smell and look of earwax can provide valuable insights into your ear health, especially if a huge piece of earwax fell out of your ear.
Foul-smelling earwax is often a sign of bacterial or fungal growth within the ear canal, which can be caused by the accumulation of debris, dead skin cells, and moisture.
The presence of a large piece of earwax being expelled could indicate that the natural processes of wax migration and expulsion have been hindered, potentially leading to an overgrowth of microorganisms.
While the removal of the wax might temporarily alleviate the odor, it’s essential to address the underlying cause. If the smell persists, recurs, or if you experience any discomfort, pain, or changes in your hearing, consulting an audiologist is recommended to determine the appropriate course of action and ensure your ear health is properly managed.
Can certain foods prevent smelly ear wax?
While there is limited scientific evidence directly linking specific foods to the prevention of smelly ear wax, maintaining a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients can contribute to overall ear health. Hydration and consuming foods high in antioxidants, vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids may indirectly support ear health. However, it’s important to consult with a medical professional, such as an audiologist, for personalized advice.
Keep in mind that factors beyond just diet can impact ear wax characteristics. Focusing solely on foods that prevent ear wax may not address the full range of factors contributing to smelly ear wax.
If you believe you have excessive wax, call your Primary Care Doctor, Audiologist or ENT for removal. Resist the urge to stick a Qtip deep in your ear for removal and risk injuring the ear canal or your eardrum. Leaving excessive ear wax alone in the ear can cause hearing loss, pain, pressure, discomfort, and even dizziness and ringing in the ears. If you have pain, discomfort, or a foul odor, call your audiologist or ENT for a full treatment and evaluation of the ear.