Ear wax, or cerumen, is a natural waxy substance that helps protect your ears by guarding your ear canals against infection. It also absorbs dead skin and prevents dirt from entering your inner ear. While ear wax is beneficial to your hearing health, you can have too much of a good thing.
Ear wax build-up can block your ears, causing temporary hearing loss and infection. What you eat can play a part. Here’s what you need to know about foods that cause ear wax build-up.
Does Diet Affect Ear Wax Build-Up?
Some people are prone to an excessive build-up of ear wax. This is typically due to genetics or environmental factors like hearing aids and overusing earbuds. Diet can also affect ear wax production. Holistic medicine practitioners have long claimed that certain food items promote excessive ear wax, and medical research has also identified a few as well.
Foods That Cause Ear Wax Build-Up
So what foods cause ear wax? Let’s look at a few.
Liquid Diets and Soft Foods
Chewing is a crucial part of the natural mechanism by which your ear expels ear wax from the ear canal. The muscles of the jaw attach close to the ear. The movement helps break the wax up and push it out.
People who chew less for various reasons tend to get blockages in their ear canals.
They have higher rates of ear wax build-up and impactions that require a doctor to remove the wax from the outer ear.
Some people switch to consuming mostly liquids to lose weight. Some examples of this popular fad include:
- Meal replacement shakes
- Juice cleanses and detox
- Clear-liquid diet
While this might help you reach your weight-loss goals, it dramatically reduces how much you chew, leading to excessive ear wax production.
Some folks are forced to eat only soft foods or exclusively consume liquids due to surgery on their jaw or some other medical problem. Others just prefer softer foods.
You might experience excess ear wax production if you tend to eat a lot of:
- Oatmeal and porridge
If you are on a diet of mostly liquids or soft foods, you should chew gum regularly to help work the wax out of your ear.
Foods that Contain Gluten
About 20 million people in the US have some form of gluten intolerance. People with this condition cannot digest gluten. This makes life hard for the gluten intolerant because gluten is found in many everyday food items.
Sources of dietary gluten include:
- Processed foods
In medicine, gluten intolerance is known as celiac disease. People with celiac disease have a higher risk of ear infections. If you have gluten sensitivity, gluten can cause inflammation in all parts of the body, including the ear.
Your ear mistakes the inflammation for an ear infection and responds by producing more ear wax, which has antibacterial properties. This can lead to a build-up of wax and an impaction.
Many claim that when they cut wheat and other foods with gluten from their diets, they saw a decrease in ear wax. This may be true for people with problems processing gluten, but there’s not much evidence that eliminating gluten affects cerumen production in the general public.
Still, if you’re having problems, reducing your gluten intake might help. It can be challenging because gluten is ubiquitous. Fortunately, many gluten-free alternatives are out there, so it’s increasingly possible to live without gluten.
A mild stimulant, caffeine is a staple of fast-paced modern life. Caffeine can be found in:
- Energy drinks
Consuming high quantities of caffeine-rich products increases blood pressure, affecting the circulation in the ear. This is known to trigger tinnitus in some.
There isn’t much direct evidence showing that caffeine can cause a build-up of wax in the ear canal. However, many studies have shown that the symptoms of a clogged ear disappeared after participants stopped drinking caffeine. Cerumen production also decreased, lending credence to the theory.
The culprit in dairy foods is lactose. Lactose intolerance is far more common than gluten intolerance.
Nearly two-thirds of the world’s population cannot digest lactose.
Because of this, dairy products can trigger inflammation, which affects the ears and can cause ear wax build-up.
If you’re having problems with excess ear wax, avoid these common dairy foods:
- Ice creams
- Sour cream
If you’re having problems with chronic inflammation and an overabundance, lactose intolerance might be to blame. Try switching to non-dairy alternatives like almond and soy milk.
It’s not clear if the cocoa in chocolate causes ear wax or the high amount of sugar. However, cutting out chocolate is believed to affect ear wax production.
Foods That Promote Healthy Hearing
A healthy diet strengthens all parts of your body, including your ears. Now that you know what foods to avoid let’s look at foods that promote healthy hearing by providing the essential nutrients that keep your ears healthy.
Doctors recommend eating foods rich in the following nutrients.
Any doctor will tell you that the backbone of a good diet is leafy vegetables like:
- Collard greens.
You can also stock up on legumes like:
- Black beans
- Black-eyed peas
All these foods are rich in folic acid, which helps stave off presbycusis and age-related hearing loss.
Magnesium helps prevent hearing loss by neutralizing damage in the ears due to stress and free radicals and improving blood circulation.
Some magnesium-rich grains include:
- Dark Chocolate
Vitamin B 12
Vitamin B12 is crucial for maintaining the health of your blood and nervous system, including the auditory nerve.
B12 deficiency has been linked to hearing loss.
Many types of meat are rich in B12, including:
While the primary source of B12 is animal products, vegetarians can buy foods fortified with B12 or take supplements. Other sources of B12 for vegetarians include:
- Dairy products
- Nutritional yeast
- Purple laver
- Shitake mushroom
As expensive as they are, seeds and nuts are worth every penny because they contain zinc, which helps combat hearing loss. Many people with sensorineural hearing loss also have zinc deficiencies. Seeds and nuts can help prevent infections, too.
To protect your ears, eat large quantities of the following seeds and nuts:
- Sesame seeds
- Watermelon seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
Potassium is vital because it regulates the fluid in your ears, helping to maintain your ears’ equilibrium.
To get the potassium you need, doctors recommend increasing your consumption of:
- Sweet potatoes
- Coconut water
Vitamin C boosts immunity and prevents infections and inflammations that impact your ears.
The best sources of Vitamin C are:
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids have numerous health benefits and can delay the onset of age-related hearing loss.
You can get Omega 3 fatty acids from supplements and foods like:
- Chia seeds
- Fish oil
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that protects the bones in your ear and strengthens your immune system.
People with vitamin D deficiencies are more prone to ear infections.
Some studies show that calcium and vitamin D supplements can prevent the recurrence of vertigo, which is rooted in an ear imbalance.
Your body can produce most of the vitamin D it needs with sufficient exposure to sunlight. However, if you don’t get enough sun, you can increase your intake by eating:
If you’re having problems with ear wax, your best bet is to look at root causes, like overuse of earbuds or a dirty hearing aid. At the same time, an unhealthy diet can be part of the problem and avoiding foods that cause ear wax build-up may help.
If you think you may be intolerant to lactose or gluten, try cutting dairy out of your diet and switching to gluten-free substitutes.
While cutting your consumption of foods that cause excess ear wax, you should also eat a balanced diet rich in nutrients, vitamins and minerals to improve your overall hearing health.
You can also manage excess cerumen by periodically cleaning your ears using safe methods. Avoid cotton swabs, ear candling, and other things that can damage your ears.
1. Morley H, Panak V, Mulders WHAM, Goulios H, Martini A, Langdon C. Non-chewing diets and cerumen impaction in the external ear canal in a residential aged care population. Australas J Ageing. 2020;39(2):131-136. doi:10.1111/ajag.12736