Sometimes you might notice that the colour of your earwax changes. Usually, this is nothing to worry about and it just means that your wax has picked up a little more or a little less dirt on its way through your ear canal.
But there are certain situations though when the colour of your earwax can help you gauge your earhealth.
Is dark earwax a sign of infection?
Dark earwax is not usually a sign of infection. Typically, the symptoms you will notice first are ear pain, pus or blood in the ear or a change to your hearing. Pus or blood in the ear can change the colour of your earwax, though, so if you notice your earwax is darker because there is blood in it, it might be worth getting it checked out.
Dark earwax can be normal for many people. The substance begins as a pale yellow or light brown but this changes as it moves along the ear canal. Earwax is designed to pick up dirt and bacteria, preventing infections from occurring — the more it picks up, the darker it becomes.
Research has shown that we begin life with light-coloured earwax and as we age it becomes darker, even before it has picked up any dirt or debris from our ears.2
If the earwax is dark and possibly hard as well, then you may have impacted earwax.
Why do I have blood in my earwax?
If you don’t have any other symptoms, this could mean that you have had some injury to your ear. These small injuries can happen quite easily as there a lot of blood vessels in your ears. Often a small cut will clear up on its own, but if you’re unaware of any small cut or minor injury it’s always
best to have a proper ear examination carried out by a professional.
Aside from cuts and scrapes, blood in your ear canal or earwax could be the sign of something more serious, for example a ruptured eardrum, pressure trauma or infection.3
If your child has reddish earwax, this could be a sign they’ve inserted a ‘foreign object’ (a toy or anything else that shouldn’t be there) into their ear. As always, don’t try to remove anything yourself as this could push the object and any wax further down the ear canal.
You shouldn’t be too concerned with minor differences in colour as this is all normal variation from person to person. But if your earwax is watery, smells different to usual, or has an unusual consistency, then it might be a sign of infection or injury and you should see an ear specialist as soon as possible.
1. Meyer zum Gottesberge, A, and A M Meyer zum Gottesberge. “Das Cerumen in anthropologischer Sicht” [Cerumen from the anthropologic viewpoint]. Laryngo- rhino- otologie vol. 74,1 (1995): 50-3. doi:10.1055/s-2007-997687
2. Shokry, Engy, and Nelson Roberto Antoniosi Filho. “Insights into cerumen and application in diagnostics: past, present and future prospective.” Biochemia medica vol. 27,3 (2017): 030503. doi:10.11613/BM.2017.030503
3. ONeill, Owen J., et al. “Ear Barotrauma.” StatPearls, StatPearls Publishing, 25 April 2020.