What is Earwax?
Earwax, also known by the medical term cerumen, is a yellowish waxy substance secreted in the ear canal of humans and other mammals. It protects the skin of the human ear canal, assists in cleaning and lubrication, and also provides some protection from bacteria, fungi, insects and water. Excess or impacted cerumen can press against the eardrum and/or occlude (block) the external auditory canal or hearing aids, potentially hindering hearing.
Cerumen is produced in the outer third of the cartilaginous portion of the ear canal. It is a mixture of viscous secretions from sebaceous glands and less-viscous ones from modified apocrine sweat glands. The primary components of earwax are shed layers of skin, with 60 percent of the earwax consisting of keratin, 12–20 percent saturated and unsaturated long-chain fatty acids, alcohols, squalene and 6–9 percent cholesterol.
There are two distinct genetically determined types of earwax: the wet type, which is dominant, and the dry type, which is recessive. While Asians and Native Americans are more likely to have the dry type of cerumen (gray and flaky), African and European people are more likely to have the wet type (honey-brown to dark-brown and moist).