What is the purpose of earwax?

Earwax which is scientifically referred to as cerumen, protects the ear. How? Read on to find out..

Earwax is vital to the problem-free working of the ears. It is produced by two glands present in the skin of the outer ear canal; the sebaceous glands and apocrine sweat glands. The former exude sebum, an oily substance, which mixes with the secretions of the apocrine glands to make earwax. The scientific name for earwax is cerumen.

Earwax collects the dead skin cells, loose hair follicles and dust that accumulate inside the ear. The ear canal is convoluted, so this waxy debris requires the help of unique migrating cells in the ear to be pushed out. These cells move continuously from the inside of the canal to the outside. They push along the earwax assisted by the natural movements of our jaws when we speak, eat, sneeze and cough. The earwax keeps the canal smooth and prevents harmful microbes from entering the ear. It is also mildly acidic so it holds bacteria and fungi at bay. Earwax discourages small insects from using the ear canal as a suitable dwelling!

Other animals also produce earwax and some, like the blue whale, never throw it out. Scientists discovered a plug of earwax the size of a banana in a blue whale. When it was analysed, it was found to contain 16 different environmental pollutants, such as pesticides.

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