Ear wax also called Cerumen, is something that every person has to some degree. It is secreted from the ear canal and can also be found in other mammals as well as humans, where it serves the same purpose. Ear wax is made up of Cholesterol, squalene and lanosterol, which are all excreted and mixed within the ear. And is made at an equivalent rate to fingernail growth. But many people still don't really know the function of earwax. They often try their best to get rid of it whenever they can, which could in fact be a bad idea.
Ear wax generally serves two important functions. Firstly it stops the inner ear from becoming dried out, which can impair hearing. And secondly it helps to stop bacteria from entering the body through the ear. If the ears dry out then they can become itchy, and will tend to become infected a lot more. This is because bacteria can pass into the ear more easily and can damage the inner ear. If there is wax in the way of the bacteria, then it will become stuck in the sticky wax and wont be able to get any further inside the body.
Another function of the ear wax is to stop particles in the air from getting into the ear. In every liter of air that surrounds us there are millions of particles that can enter the body at any time. These are mainly dust, as well as pollen and numerous other organic waste materials. Because many of them are lighter then the air which carries them, in winds, or even in seemingly calm conditions they can easily blow into the ear.
There are tiny air currents that we don't even notice all around us, many of them caused by our movements, that can cause these particles to be blown around. Because of the shape of the ears, particles that are trapped against them tend to accumulate and gather in the ear canal itself. This is where the ear wax comes into play. Because it is very sticky and dense compared to the smaller particles it attracts them to it. Once they have landed on the earwax then they are held in place by the moisture in the earwax, which binds to the particles and stops them moving further into the ear.
These particles are then held in place until the earwax is expelled from the body naturally or until we clean our ears. You will notice at times that the earwax can be a Gray or darker orange shade then usual. This is because the concentration of particles has reached such a high level, that they have actually started to make the ear wax look dirty because of their presence. This means that there are millions of particles that have built up.
Most of the time wax in the ears is expelled naturally, and the movement of the jaw helps his. Things like chewing gum can help the process along. Although sometimes it is better to clean the ears manually. Q-tips are the most commonly used, although should be used with care as they can serve only to force the wax deeper inside the ear. Taking a long bath or shower usually works fine, as the prolonged exposure to the water will turn the wax into a semi liquid. Which will usually be cleaned out in the process.
So ear wax does have a lot of important functions. It might not be to everyones liking, or even be particularly attractive to look at. But it is certainly important for maintaining healthy ears and good hearing. So the next time you feel the need to remove all of it that you can find, remember the good job that its doing as well.