Family Health

Blech! Earwax!

Gross… but for good reason

Ok, yeah. It looks gross. But there’s actually a reason our ears have all that wax.

Earwax, also known as cerumen, is totally normal. This yellowish waxy substance hanging out in the ear canals of you and your kiddos has a purpose and it’s actually about helping you stay well. 

So before you grab your Q-tips and go to town on your kids, here are answers to the top four questions I get from parents when it comes to earwax:

Top four questions about earwax

Why do we have earwax?

Earwax is a mixture of secretions by special glands in the ear canal. Its main job is to protect the lining of the ear canal. That lining helps prevent infections, like swimmers ear and helps clear foreign particles (like sand and dirt) out of the ear. As earwax makes its way out of the ear canal, it brings those particles with it!

My child has a lot earwax… is that normal?

Although it may look gross, all that earwax is not a sign of poor hygiene! Some people just make more earwax than others. Ears are designed to clean themselves. It usually isn’t necessary to help that process.

So when does earwax become a problem?

Earwax only needs to be removed if causing problems such as: 

  • Trouble hearing
  • Ringing in the ears 
  • Ear pain

I also like to remind parents it is normal for earwax to be a range of colors from yellow (new earwax) to brown (old wax). However, if you see white or red-tinged drainage it can be signs of an infection. If your child has any of the above symptoms, they should be seen by their pediatrician. They may manually remove earwax with special tools or irrigate the ear canal to flush out the wax.

Can I try to remove earwax on my own? Are Q-Tips safe?

The most common question I get is about Q-Tips. Q-Tips should never be used in a child’s ear. It can actually push wax farther into the ear, causing further buildup. You also risk damaging the ear drum itself, especially if you have a squirmy child!

However, if you need to remove or soften a buildup of wax, there are over the counter wax-softening drops and earwax removal kits that can be effective, depending on the child’s age and degree of problems related to the buildup. Be sure, however, to talk to your child’s health care provider before you use these products. They can cause even bigger problems if your child has ear issues such as a hole in their eardrum.

If there is visible earwax outside your child’s ear, the best way to remove it is with a washcloth. 

It really is normal…

While earwax may make you squirmy, it really is normal and plays a very necessary role in the health of your ears. If you have more questions, please be sure to reach out to your child’s Methodist Physicians Clinic pediatrician.

About the Author

Pediatrician Dr. Emily Bendlin has always had a passion for working with kids and parents.

Not one to steer clear of difficult cases, she wakes up every morning ready to take on new challenges that await her at Methodist Physicians Clinic.

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