Earwax Hero – Science on the Web #59

Earwax Hero – Science on the Web #59


– Uh, please tell me that is not a croissant in her ear hole. – Nope, that is earwax
and that stuff is amazing. – Each year 12 million Americans show up at the doctor’s office to have their earwax removed and market research from
Euromonitor International estimates that North Americans
drop 63 million dollars annually on home ear cleaning products. – Some people are so determined
to rid themselves of it, they’re willing to place a
cone-shaped device in their ear and light it on fire in
the attempt to create a suctioning affect and
supposedly draw out the earwax. To be clear, object stuck in your ear plus lighting it on fire equals
a terrible, terrible idea. Not to mention that it’s
scientifically unsound. – For instance, the
negative pressure needed to pull wax from the
canal would be so powerful that it would rupture the
eardrum in the process. – The thing is, our
ears are self-cleaning. There are even specialized
cells that migrate carrying with them the dust and dirt that gets caught in the sticky stuff. – And yet we poke, prod and try to corral the amber ooze languishing
inside our ears. And unless our ears are painfully impacted with the stuff we shouldn’t because there’s gold in
them there ears, waxy gold. – Ear wax, officially called cerumen, is a variation on sweat glands. That’s right, the stuff
that produces sweat, also secretes the wax
that lines the ear canal. – About half of the weight of earwax is made of dead skin cells,
the rest oils and proteins. Earwax not only helps to create a temporary waterproof seal
protecting the inner workings, but it also lubricates the
skin so that we don’t go mad trying to itch dry, inaccessible skin. – But the benefits don’t stop there, it can trap and ooze
bacteria out of the ear and it has between 1,000 to 2,000 glands that produce antimicrobial peptides. It also contains lysozyme,
an enzyme capable of destroying bacterial cell walls, making it an earwax hero. A bacterial street fighter patrolling the nooks and crannies of your ears. – And if you’ve ever wondered about the color and viscosity of your earwax, or even sniffed it, you’re not alone. Why would scientists want to take in a deep breath of gooey, pungent earwax? Well, the Monell Institute studies a rare genetic disorder called Maple Syrup Urine disease, a metabolism disorder
passed down through families in which the body can’t break down certain parts of proteins. Urine in persons with this condition can smell like maple syrup. – But it can be easily diagnosed through the scent of earwax compounds, which is a lot simpler and
cheaper than a genetic test. – Which gets to the idea that earwax may be a portable time capsule of a person’s general health and wellness. So what if you could find a marine mammal that never shed it’s earwax? What could it tell us? – Similar to the rings of a tree, the earwax of a blue whale is laid down in light and dark bands with each band correlating roughly to a six month period. – So in 2007 when a
plug of lifelong earwax measuring 24.5 centimeters
was taken out of a blue whale, researchers were astounded to discover that not only had the whale been exposed to 16 different chemicals including flame retardants and pesticides, they could also see when the whale had experienced extreme stress with spikes of the
stress hormone, cortisol, detectable in the wax. – Something to consider
the next time you find your finger wandering
toward your ear canal. – So what about you? Share with us your
disgusting earwax stories. We actually want to hear them. – That’s right this is a safe place. Let us know in the comments below and to keep the videos coming,
make sure to subscribe.

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