The ear canal is shaped somewhat like an hourglass. The skin on the outer part of the canal has special glands that produce earwax. The earwax is the waxy secretion in the ear canal. It is typically brownish yellow and soft. The purpose of this natural wax is to act as a lubricant. It repels water and traps dust and sand particles. Usually a small amount of wax accumulates, and then dries up and falls out of the ear canal carrying with it unwanted particles.
The earwax is made up mainly of shed skin cells and hair as well as keratin, long chain fatty acids, alcohols, squalene, and cholesterol. It is derived from the secretions of the ceruminous and the sebaceous glands of the outside ear canal. The earwax is helpful in normal amounts and serves to coat the skin of the ear canal where it acts as a temporary water repellent. The absence of ear wax may result in dry, itchy ears, and even infection. Too much earwax though may become compacted and block the ear canal and thereby cause hearing loss.
There are two main types of earwax: the wet type and the dry type. The type of earwax is genetically determined. The wet type is a dominant trait. Wet earwax is due to the higher concentration of lipids and pigment granules.
- ear wax