It's sticky, or dry. Photograph by kzww/shutterstock
For all of us, it's one or the other. And your type can provide clues to your genetic ancestry. Research appearing in the journal Nature Genetics finds most people of Asian decent have dry earwax, while people of African or European descent have sticky or "wet" wax. The authors of that study say this was a genetic adaptation to the climates in which our ancestors evolved.
It has a strong odor.
You may have an infection or damage in the middle part of your ear. This can lead to a number of symptoms that, together, doctors refer to as "chronic otitis media." One of those symptoms: "You could get a foul-smelling drainage from your ear," Comer says. If your middle ear is messed up, you may also notice problems with your sense of balance, a ringing in your ears, or the sensation that your ear is full or blocked. See your doc.
You notice when it leaks out.
Infections or tears inside your eardrum can lead to the formation of an abnormal skin growth called a "cholesteatoma," Comer explains. "It's a kind of a cyst-like structure that leads to debris from the ear filling up the ear canal." Rather than the imperceptible discharge you're used to, ear gunk may come out in a noticeable trickle or clump. Pressure and pain in your ear are also symptoms of a cholesteatoma.
You don't seem to have any.
You're not sick. You're just getting older. "As people age, the wax tends to get more flaky as opposed to like peanut butter," Comer says. Don't freak out. "Glands in general tend to dry out as we get older," he explains.
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