Earwax, or cerumen, is not usually the cause for much speculation. Ignoring it for too long, however, can have major effects on your memory and health, especially with hearing aids.
The sticky substance has also made its mark on culture and global populations. Here are five interesting facts about the wax:
Your IQ Depends On Earwax
What’s today’s date, month, and year? Take a paper in your hand, fold it in half, and put it on the floor. These items, part of the Mini-Mental Status Exam (MMSE), sound easy enough, but not if you have too much wax in your ears.
A 2002 study of adults older than 65 whose ears were clogged with wax found that removing earwax improved their overall MMSE scores, while leaving it in caused difficulty with simple commands and questions.
Hair and Tear
Too much earwax is most often caused by having too much hair (especially in men), or wearing hearing aids. Using Q-tips to clean your ears can actually push wax further into the ear canal and cause impaction, or possibly rupture the eardrum.
Bye Bye Bacteria
But wait – don’t clean out your ears too fast. A moderate amount of earwax is good for you. Cells on the surface of your ear canal release earwax to protect the area from ear infections.
Several scientific studies have found that earwax has the ability to kill bacteria such as the infamous E. Coli, Staph. Aureus, and H. Influenzae.
Stuck on a cold wintery day with dry, chapped lips? No problem – smear on some earwax, allegedly the original lip balm. Earwax is known to relieve itching, burning and prevent wound formation, which are the primary uses for lip balms like ChapStick and Blistex.
Where are Your Ears From?
Depending on the consistency of your earwax, you can trace your ethnic origin. A 2006 study from Nature Genetics made headlines for discovering that East Asians have a gene mutation that makes their earwax dry.
Researchers believe the mutated gene may be an adaptation to the cold Asian climate by lessening sweat. The study found that wet and sticky is an indication of African or European descent.
It’s important to clean your ears properly to prevent earwax accumulation, but keep a healthy supply handy. Don’t clean your ears every day, and only clean the outer part of your ear using warm water. If you have hearing aids, make sure to clean them routinely.