Left banner image adapted from amyloidosis gross node, by Ed Uthman MD, Creative Commons license

Ear wax

We all know about the waxy yellow stuff in our ears. We pick at it, we wipe it with cotton swabs, we candle it (which is dangerous by the way!), and we all had that time as a kid when we realized it's much nastier to taste than snot.

Ear wax, like mucus, is protective.  The fancy term for this substance is cerumen. It is secreted in the ear canal and contains waxy lipids, dead epithelial cells, and sometimes hair. When the substance is not properly cleared it can become impacted, causing hearing problems. Sometimes how you clean your ear pushes the wax deeper, causing a blockage. Normally though the wax flows out of your ear naturally.

As most modern peoples don't walk around with wax flowing from their ears most of you probably clean them. Doctors recommend not doing this. Remember the "don't put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear" philosophy - there's a reason for this. At the end of the ear canal is the ear drum - a very delicate membrane that is easily punctured or damaged, and cause deafness if not handled with care. So though most people grab for a q-tip, I have to align myself with medical integrity and say "see your doctor to clean your ears".

And now for a picture of inside the ear canal:
By Didier Descouens, Wikimedia

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