Earwax is a natural substance that’s a normal, healthy part of your body’s biological processes. If you’ve recently noticed a change in the color of your earwax, you might wonder if this is something to worry about.
In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the color of your earwax and what it means for your health.
What Color is Earwax Normally?
Earwax comes in varying shades. Normal earwax colors typically range from amber orange to dark brown or espresso black. The precise hue or shade can vary according to several factors, so what is “normal” for a person of one group of people might be out of the ordinary for another.
Skin Color and Race
People with darker complexions tend to produce darker earwax.
Consistency and hue also vary according to race.
Studies show that people of European and African descent tend to have sticky, yellow earwax, whereas earwax is usually whiter and drier among people of Native American or East Asian descent.
The color of your earwax will change as you age.
Children tend to have earwax that is light yellow or orange. Older adults usually produce darker wax.
What Earwax Color Says About Your Health?
As gross as it sounds, you should probably keep tabs on your earwax. Just like stool, mucus and other substances your body produces, earwax is an excellent indicator of what’s going on inside you.
If your cerumen isn’t a color that’s within the normal range for your age and ethnicity, that could signify a health problem.
Here are some colors to look out for:
- Red: If your earwax is red, it’s a sign of bleeding in your ear canal. It might just be a scratch from using cotton swabs or other things to clean your ears. It could also be a sign of a middle ear infection or rupture in your inner ear. No matter the cause, you need to contact your doctor immediately.
- White or gray: A fungal ear infection, also known as otomycosis, will often produce gray, flaky earwax. This is more common in humid climates and people with weakened immune systems. Call your primary care provider, who will probably prescribe antifungal medications.
- Green or yellow: When you have a bacterial infection, your immune system will produce pus and other fluids that give your earwax a sickly tinge. If you see green earwax, you need to take action to prevent damage to your hearing. Your doctor can give you antibiotics to treat this.
Other Warning Signs
It’s not just the color of the earwax that’s important. Here are some additional red flags:
- Wet and runny: If your wax is watery, it could be pus signifying a long-standing infection. This could also come from swimmer’s ear.
- Funky smell. If the earwax has a foul smell like rotten food, it’s a sign of infection. A fishy odor may also signify a fungal infection.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Earwax and What Does It Do?
Earwax, or cerumen, is a waxy substance that forms a protective coating inside your ear. The role it plays is similar to that of mucus in your nose. It traps dust, dead skin cells, bacteria, and other things that might harm your ear. It also coats and protects your ear’s delicate skin.
Who Is Prone to Excess Earwax?
Certain people produce more earwax than others. This could be for a lot of reasons, but it’s usually genetic. Some common causes for earwax overproduction:
- Overactive skin glands
- Excess hair in the ear canal
- Chronic ear infections
- Abnormal ear canals or deformities
- Overuse of earbuds and hearing aids
- Skin conditions
- Eating certain foods that cause ear wax build-up
What’s the Safest Way to Remove Earwax?
If you have impacted earwax, purchase over-the-counter ear drops called cerumenolytics to break apart hard and sticky cerumen and flush the affected ear out with a bulb syringe full of warm water. If this doesn’t work, you may need to see a doctor to have the impaction removed using suction.
Should I Try Ear Candling?
Many people use Hopi candles to remove earwax, believing this to be an effective, holistic method, but the FDA warns against this form of alternative medicine. This is not safe and has no scientific basis. Furthermore, it is not an authentic practice of the Hopi community.
Are Cotton Swabs Safe?
Doctors have an adage: Never put anything smaller than your elbow into your ear canal.
It’s a cute way of saying don’t put anything in your ears. Cotton swabs are no exception.
Even though doctors have warned against them for years, cotton swabs are still widely used. However, cotton swabs can push wax deeper into your ear and even cause a ruptured eardrum.
How Often Should I Clean My Ears?
Most of the time, earwax will work its way out of your ears naturally, and cleaning them too much can actually be bad for you.
It may sound counterintuitive, but studies show that people who obsessively clean and rinse their ears with soapy water had a higher preponderance to earwax.
This is because this regular cleaning stimulated the glands to produce more wax.
There are many ways to gauge your ear health. Sensations in your ear canal or changes in your ability to hear are the most obvious telltale signs that something is wrong, but earwax is one indicator that’s often overlooked.
If your earwax turns red, green, yellow or white, that means it’s time to seek medical help. Paying attention to the color of your earwax is an essential part of protecting your hearing health.
1. Shokry E, Filho NRA. Insights into cerumen and application in diagnostics: past, present, and future prospective. Biochem Med (Zagreb). 2017;27(3):030503. doi:10.11613/BM.2017.030503