The color of ear wax can often be alarming, especially to parents who notice the issue in their children complaining of a “stuffed up ear”. There are a number of reasons for dark brown ear wax, most of which are benign. This article hopes to shed some light on the topic so that you can best determine whether any of your concerns are truly justified.
To recap what was said in the ear wax build up article, the main composition of cerumen is hair, dead skin and oil produced by glands near the entrance to the ear. Often included in the wax, however, are various other materials not directly produced by the body. Dust and small insects are fairly common, and the relative quantities of each component have a direct impact on the final color of the wax found in someone’s ears.
Check for the Possibility of Blood if Black Ear Wax is Observed
The first thing to do when you notice dark brown or black ear wax is to make sure it is not coagulated blood. The consistencies of the two are noticeably different and so this shouldn’t be difficult to discern. As always, however, if you are unsure, rather pay a visit to your local doctor to gain clarity on the matter. A clear sign that it may be dry blood rather than ear wax is that fresh blood is also visible which could indicate the presence of a far more severe issue than impacted ear wax. A ruptured ear drum, otic polyp or an infection may be present if fresh blood is observed. Waste no time in seeking professional help in this case.
Most Likely Reasons for Dark Brown Ear Wax
Excluding the presence of congealed blood, several more nonthreatening and likely reasons for the presence of dark brown ear wax are listed below.
Ear Wax Type
The actual type of ear wax the person has in terms of its wetness or dryness has one of the greatest effects on color. This is genetically determined and is related to the triglyceride or fat content of the wax. People with wax classified as wet typically have a triglyceride content of around 50%, while those with dry-type wax, have less than 20%. Reportedly, Native Americans and Asians are more genetically prone to having dry earwax, whereas Caucasians, Africans and African Americans more frequently have the wet type.
The fat itself has a brown color, and so dry wax is generally light yellow or grayish and is more “flaky”, whereas wet wax is darker brown, closer to the color of golden syrup.
How long the Wax has been in the Ear
The fats in earwax are sensitive to attack by the oxygen in air, much like the fats in olive and sunflower cooking oils. With time, the fats undergo what’s known as oxidation. These oxidized fats have a darker color than when they are freshly produced, leading to dark brown or black ear wax. In fact, if you heat cooking oil in a pan on high heat for a few minutes until it starts smoking, you will notice that the color of the oil has gone darker brown due to the oxidation that has occurred. The heat speeds up the process but is essentially what happens with time to the fats in earwax as well.
While cerumen is meant to be moved out of the ear naturally, factors such as above normal hair growth in the ear, the necessity to wear ear plugs or hearing aids, the use of cotton buds in an attempt to clean ear wax build up, and so on, can cause the wax to move out of the canal more slowly than it should. As a result, the wax may be darker in color in these individuals due to the longer amount of time the fats are exposed to oxygen.
Highly Recommended Products for Treating Black Ear Wax
Below is a recommendation of products you can use at home for treating dark ear wax. These include the Elephant Ear Washer System, which has received over 1000 positive reviews, Debrox carbamide peroxide ear drops (rather use oils for children or for people with sensitive skin) and a syringe-based ear wax removal kit from North American Health and Wellness. These are what we at EarWaxBuildUp.net believe are the safest but most effective products for getting rid of dark cerumen.
The Use of Ear Candles
Although the use of ear candles as a remedy for ear wax build up is strongly discouraged both here at EarWaxBuildUp.net and by most government health and safety agencies, the presence of black wax can potentially come from these dangerous devices. Dripping paraffin and/or beeswax from the candle mixed with the soot it generates when burning can create what appears to be black ear wax. If for some reason you have used one of these or suspect your child or loved one has been treated with one, then consider that the candle itself may be the source of the abnormally colored wax.
Dark brown ear wax needn’t be a cause for concern unless you suspect it may be coagulated blood. In this case, visit your otolaryngologist immediately to determine the source of the blood and rule out any potentially harmful infections or other conditions. Most often, however, the color is due to the inherited type of wax the person has, the relative composition of hair, dead skin and dust in the wax, and how much oxidation the wax has been exposed to.
In the case of a blockage, ear drops for clogged ears are one of the easiest and effective home remedies for relief, combined with syringing of warm distilled water into the ears once the wax has been softened. It is important to note that dark colored wax is not a sign of poor hygiene and often attempts to clean the ears by “conventional” means, such as with ear buds, shoving of the finger into the ear, etc. only lead to a worsening of the impaction.
Have you found oddly colored wax in your own or someone else’s ears that got you worried? Leave a comment below and we’ll discuss.
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