Earwax, technically known as cerumen, is produced by glands inside the ear canal. It protects, cleans and lubricates the ear canal.and also provides protection against insects, water and bacteria.
A single gene determines the type of earwax. Dry earwax is more common in individuals from East Asian countries, while wet earwax dominates in African and European populations. (The same gene that determines dry earwax is also responsible for reduced underarm body odor in individuals from China, Japan and Korea.)
Blocked ears is one of the most common reasons people present for hearing-related problems. Normally, the earwax is part of a self-cleaning process, but in 10 percent of young children, 20 percent of adults and more than 30 percent of the elderly, the wax collects and is not expelled. Up to two-thirds of people in nursing homes may suffer from a condition in which earwax collects to a point where it can completely block the ear canal. Impacted earwax is particularly problematic for those with dementia as it exacerbates hearing loss, which then impedes communication and increases aggression and other difficult behavior.
In 2016, the U.S. federal Medicare program paid for nearly 1.7 million earwax removal services. Excessive earwax is responsible for nearly 12 million visits to a health care provider each year, including 8 million who require removal in the office.