Ear Wax Cerumen

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Ear Infection Slideshow Pictures

Earache (Ear Pain) Symptoms

Pain in the ear can occur because of conditions within the ear, the ear canal, or affecting the visible portion of the ear.

Symptoms of impacted ear wax that may cause ear pain include:

  • Hearing problems
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Cough
  • Itching in the ear canal and round the ear
  • Discharge from the ear

Quick GuideWeird Body Quirks Pictures Slideshow

Weird Body Quirks Pictures Slideshow

What is ear wax?

The skin on the outer part of the ear canal has special glands that produce ear wax, also known as cerumen. The purpose of this natural wax is to protect the ear from damage and infections. Normally, a small amount of wax accumulates and then dries up and falls out of the ear canal, carrying with it unwanted dust or sand particles.

Ear wax is helpful 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. Ear wax is formed in the outer third of the ear canal.

What does ear wax look like?

Cerumen varies in form and appearance from person to person. It may be almost liquid, firm and solid, or dry and flaky. The color of ear wax varies depending upon its composition. Glandular secretions, sloughed skin cells, normal bacteria present on the surface of the canal, and water may all be present in ear wax.

Ear Wax Illustration
Ear Wax Illustration

The ear canals are considered to be self-cleaning. This means that ear wax and sloughed skin cells typically pass on their own from the inside of the ear canal to the outer opening. Old earwax moves from the deeper areas of the ear canal out to the opening. At the opening of the ear canal the ear wax usually dries up and falls out of the ear canal.

Unpleasant symptoms related to excessive ear wax

Excessive ear wax can cause different symptoms, including:

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/2/2015
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