“Sweet potatoes.” “Potatoes.” “Carrots.”
We have various different terms or phrases for earwax, the oily substance produced by the ear canal. Its medical term is cerumen.
The ear canal is like a conveyor belt of earwax; cerumen migrates out of the ear, aided by any jaw movements. The purpose of earwax is multifold: for cleaning the ear canal, lubrication, antibacterial and antifungal causes, and also to repel water. (Because earwax is an oily substance, it will wick water out of your ear canal and prevent a swimmer’s ear infection.)
There are two types of earwax – wet (which is the dominant type) and dry (more selective of East Asians and Native Americans). It’s made on the outer 1/3 of the ear canal and spirals its way out the canal to the opening.
Many parents question whether or not they should remove the earwax. The only persons qualified to determine if earwax should be removed are health care providers. What you see at the opening of the ear canal is meant to be there and should eventually clear on its own. You can use a wet washcloth and your little finger to remove what you see, but never put anything into the canal.
The rule of thumb is “nothing smaller than your elbow in your ear.” If there’s an impaction of wax or drainage from the ear canal, it may warrant removal of the cerumen, but only by a health care provider. Health care providers will use water irrigation in the office and a small metal loop to remove the plug of wax. Parents can use over-the-counter softeners (cerumenolytics) like Debrox to soften the wax and ease its removal from the ear.
But remember: nothing smaller than your elbow in your ear!
Dr. Lucas Godinez has been a Kids Plus Doc since 2004.