Friday, February 11, 2011

Amazing self-cleaning ears!

Sure, they get waxy, and I q-tip nearly daily when i emerge from the shower. But if I quit today my Listeners  wouldn't soon close up with gunk like greasy drain, because ears clean themselves. But how? is it more difficult then i think to get dirt in there? does my brain sponge it away? is the occasionaly ringing in my ears the whistles of my ear-gnomes as they sweep it out?

Well, there are multiple factors that keep your ears clean, naturally. We'll start at square one - the "culprit" of dirty ears. Earwax (it is a compound word, not two). Earwax is actually very essential albeit rather disgusting. It's the snot'n'boogers of the ear hole. the medical term for ear wax is cerumen, and it is produced by modified apocrine sweat glands in the outer portion of your inner ear. It is composed primarily of shed layers of skin, with 60% of the earwax consisting of keratin, 12–20% saturated and unsaturated long-chain fatty acids, alcohols and squalene, and 6–9% cholesterol. (We'll guess the other ~11% is secret spices). Fear, stress and anxiety result in increased production of earwax. Genetically, there are two types of ear wax - wet & dry, but I won't get into the science of it. Google can assist you if you're that interested.

Ahh yes, the natural process of cleaning. Once again, evolution's genius has created a simple process to take care of this action. Natural cleaning of the ear canal occurs as a result of the "conveyor belt" process of epithelial migration, aided by jaw movement (chew more gum = cleaner ears). Skin cells for the ear form at your tympanic membrane and grow outward at a rate comparable to that of fingernail growth (and the spreading of the Atlantic ocean floor) to the walls of the ear canal, and move towards the entrance of the ear canal. The cerumen (earwax, remember?) in the canal is also carried outwards, taking with it any dirt, dust, and particulate matter that may have gathered in the canal. Jaw movement assists this process by dislodging debris attached to the walls of the ear canal, increasing the likelihood of its expulsion.

Earwax fact: 60-80% of  hearing aid faults are the result of excessive earwax.

Information, stats, and facts were drawn heavily from Wikipedia article "Earwax" and WebMD article by contributor Dr. Robert K. Jackler. Photo courtesy of Mountainside Medical

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