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.

Different earwax colours explained

Now we know what to look out for with dark or red earwax, here are some other common colours of earwax and what they can mean about your ear health:

Black earwax

This can be a little surprising to find, but most often it’s just old and dark earwax. If you use a hearing aid this may be the colour of wax you’re most familiar with.

Red earwax

If you have red earwax due to blood in your wax, it’s usually obvious, but if it is too dark and you are unsure, simply squeeze the wax between some tissue paper to see the underlying colour. 

Brown, yellow or light-coloured earwax

These are the spectrum of colours we expect to see with earwax.

White earwax

Very light or white earwax tends to be a sign that the skin of your ear canal is very dry and flaky. As the skin comes away it is picked up by the earwax and lightens its colour. This can be more common if you have a skin condition like psoriasis or eczema. 

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. 

If you are worried about your earwax for any reason, you can call your local store or book an appointment to get it checked by an audiologist. We also provide a quick and easyearwax removal serviceif you need it.

To find more information about earwax, have a look through our information hub

References

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.

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