What does different colour ear wax mean?

07 / 02 / 23

Blog post

Ear wax is a naturally occurring substance which can vary in colour, texture and firmness. Have you ever wondered why your ear wax changes and what this could mean? In this article, we have compiled a list of interesting facts about ear wax and answered all of the common questions asked.


What is ear wax?

Ear wax is an amalgamation of keratin sheets and skin cells. Sebum from sebaceous glands and modified sweat from the ceruminous glands are two distinct secretions that originate in glands within the ear canal and make up the majority of the liquid components of wax. These secretions pass through microscopic pores into hair follicles and emerge into the ear canal to combine with the solid debris. 

The main purpose of ear wax is to protect our ears from debris, dirt and infection from entering the ear canal, to help keep our ears healthy.


Is there a difference between the ear wax of different races?

Yes, there are many differences between types of ear wax in different races. The flaky, greyish, dry wax is more prevalent in Asians, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Africans and Caucasians tend to have more wet wax which is sticky and dark in colour. One gene, with the dominant allele for wet wax, is responsible for the difference. 

The repulsive smell of ear wax appears to result from the oxidation of the resulting mixture and modification of the bacteria. People with conditions like diabetes need to take better care of their ears due to a higher potential of ear infections. 


What does each colour of ear wax mean?

  • If the ear wax is dark brown or black in colour this normally means that it is older so the colour comes from the dirt and bacteria that are trapped inside. Most adults tend to have dark and hard ear wax. 
  • Dark brown ear wax that has some red is a signal for a bleeding injury. 
  • Light brown, orange and yellow ear wax is normal and common. Normally children have softer and lighter coloured ear wax. 
  • White and flaky ear wax shows you lack a body odour-producing chemical. Dark-coloured sticky ear wax shows you may need deodorant.  


ear canal showing ear wax buildup

What to do when you notice an ear wax build up?

Ear wax production can be accelerated by stress and fear. Ear wax can also be overproduced in people with certain skin conditions and those who have osteomas. The substance can also be overproduced in people who have hair covering their ear canals. 

The body typically has a perfect sense of how much ear wax to generate. Your ears will naturally remove extra ear wax, dirt and debris on their own without any assistance as long as you maintain a balanced diet, practice hygiene and move your jaw i.e eating and talking. 

Making it a habit to remove ear wax encourages your body to produce more, leading to an accumulation that can impair hearing and increase your risk of ear infections and other consequences. 

If you notice a large build-up of ear wax which is affecting your hearing, it’s wise to seek the help of an audiologist and book in for an ear wax removal appointment.


Can ear wax cause dizziness?

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) commonly known as vertigo, is a dizzying feeling that gives people a fictitious sense of movement. This sensation can be unsettling for the person experiencing it and perhaps even hazardous. It is a similar feeling to being car sick, it can cause people to vomit. There are many different causes of dizziness and vertigo. However, Sutton and Solihull Hearing Centre are able to assist with vertigo brought on by wax implication. 

Since our ears have a crucial ability to keep our balance, being impacted by ear wax can make us feel dizzy. Our equilibrium may be affected if the impacted wax pushes up on our eardrum and interferes with the impulses that travel from our ears to our brain. 

Small calcium crystals in your inner ear become loosened due to vertigo which causes your brain to interpret your motions incorrectly. This means that you might have a brief spinning episode when you turn your head or move into a different posture. It often affects elderly adults but other risk factors include head trauma, labyrinthine and having a family member with vertigo. 

person feeling dizzy

What is tinnitus?

When you hear ringing or other disturbances in one or both of your ears it’s called tinnitus. Other people typically cannot hear the sounds you hear when you have tinnitus since it is not generated by outside sound. According to the MayoClinic about 20% of people experience tinnitus and the older generation is most likely to experience it. 

Tinnitus can cause the following noises in your ears: 

  • Hissing
  • Buzzing
  • Roaring
  • Clicking
  • Humming


Will my tinnitus go away after removing ear wax? 

When the ears are clogged with wax some people who already have tinnitus claim that they are more conscious of it. This is due to the wax accumulation’s efficient blocking of external noises from reaching the eardrum which increases the audibility of internal sounds.

Many people discover that their impression of tinnitus lessens after the wax has been removed. Rarely have tinnitus sufferers claimed that removing their ear wax made their symptoms worse. This can be a result of how unpleasant the surgery was. Usually, the impact is transient because removing ear wax is such a routine process for our doctors that problems are quite rare.


When should you book an ear wax removal appointment? 

Even while healthy ears can produce ear wax in a variety of colours and textures, there are still specific situations when a person should visit a doctor. Anyone who notices an ear discharge that is not ear wax should see a doctor since it can be an indication of an ear infection. 

Also if there is blood in the ear wax you must visit a doctor as soon as possible. Anyone who frequently develops ear wax build-ups should see a doctor as soon as they experience any obstructions such as muted hearings. 


How to book an ear wax removal appointment

Sutton Hearing Centre specialises in safe and effective ear wax removal through microsuction. If you would like to book an appointment at one of our West Midlands hearing clinics, please fill in your details here or call us on 0212 321 3153 (Sutton) or 0121 705 7177 (Solihull).

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