FEB 28, 2017 2:58 PM PST

What You Earwax Says About Your Health

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Medically known as cerumen, the role of earwax is to protect dirt and pathogens from lodging themselves deep inside your ears. Earwax comes in a variety of colors, textures, and even smells. And these characteristics, as off-putting as they may be, can reveal a lot about a person's health. For example, earwax that's any color other than light yellow/orange to brown may suggest signs of infections.

More telling than the color is the consistency of the earwax, which provides hints about your genetic ancestry. Dry, flaky earwax are more common in people of East Asian descent. By contrast, Africans and Caucasians are more likely to have wet and sticky earwax.

Moreover, the genetic variations that give rise to the earwax textures also affect earwax smells. And, unfortunately, those with wetter earwax tend to also have stinkier earwax. This is due to the higher concentrations of volatile organic compounds that these people produce. Coincidentally, this means that those with wet, sticky ear gunk are more likely to also have smellier armpits.

So, next time after cleaning your ears, take a look at your earwax and see how much these secretions say about you!
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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