The color of your ear wax can alert you to an infection.
Like eye boogers, toe jam and snot, earwax is one of those bodily issues we’d rather not talk about. But that waxy, sticky (sometimes smelly) stuff inside your ears is perfectly natural and even vital for your ear health (more on this later).
But the color, consistency and amount of your earwax can vary depending on things like infections, injury or even genetics.
Here, Michael J. Kortbus, MD, FACS, a board-certified otolaryngologist and fellow of the American College of Surgeons, helps us decipher earwax, explaining what’s normal and when it’s time to see your ear doc.
Some medical experts believe earwax signifies a great deal about the general status of someone’s health and can be influenced by a person’s endocrine state — for example, that the nature and color of wax could change based on hormones or blood sugar — but this has not been proven in medical research, Dr. Kortbus says. More studies are needed to better understand the connection (if any) between cerumen and overall health.
1. White, Yellow or Orange Earwax
“Normal wax tends to be oily, waxy and of a clear, opaque, yellow or slightly auburn color,” Dr. Kortbus says.
However, healthy earwax can vary considerably from none at all to a dense orange cerumen secreted daily, and most often these scenarios don’t indicate disease.
Conversely, “if someone who did not have cerumen before suddenly develops a change in cerumen, this could signify a change in the ear canals or the state of health,” Dr. Kortbus says.
2. Yellow, Milky Discharge
If you experience ear discharge that looks like yellow milk, you might have an infection.
“The ear canals always have bacteria and fungal spores within, like all our skin does,” Dr. Kortbus says.
Indeed, our ear canals are warm, dark and moist, providing the perfect place for microbes like fungi to flourish, which can contribute to outer ear infections.
Also note: In addition to yellow, milky secretions, you’re likely to experience some degree of discomfort or pain and redness with bacterial infections, Dr. Kortbus says.
And while the warmth and darkness within the ear canals is fairly constant and beyond our control, Dr. Kortbus says there are some simple things you can do to prevent outer ear infections:
- Avoid water in the ear canals.
- Wipe the outer part of the canal with a
towel or tissue after bathing.
- Use a hair dryer on a cool setting to evaporate