A look at the different types of ear wax

When it comes to ear wax, it's not uncommon to notice changes in its appearance and texture. Many individuals become concerned about the color and consistency of their ear wax. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the various types of ear wax and shed light on the factors that influence them. Whether you have wet wax or dry wax, we aim to provide you with valuable insights to address your concerns effectively.

Are you aware that there are different types of ear wax?

When it comes to the health of our ears, paying attention to the characteristics of ear wax can provide valuable insights. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore various types of ear wax and what they may indicate about our ear health. Understanding the differences between soft, yellow ear wax; firm, brown ear wax; flaky, pale ear wax; smelly ear wax; wet or dry ear wax; runny or liquid ear wax; and blood-tinged ear wax can help us identify potential concerns and seek appropriate medical attention when necessary.

Different types of ear wax

Here are a range of different types of observed ear wax that you are likely to find as well as what some of the health ramifications of that ear wax may be.

Soft, yellow

Soft, yellow ear wax is the most common and healthy type that you are likely to notice in your ears. Its soft consistency and yellow color indicate that the wax is relatively new. This is a positive sign of regular and healthy wax production, as the wax is not hardening excessively before naturally falling out.

Firm, brown

If your ear wax appears darker yellow or brownish in color and has a firmer texture, it indicates older wax that may have hardened. This type of wax is not as soft as fresh, healthy wax. If you experience symptoms related to wax buildup and notice this type of colored wax, it could be a sign of impaction. Seeking professional attention to have your ears checked is recommended in such cases.

Flaky, pale

Flaky, pale ear wax is an indication of a healthy self-cleaning mechanism taking place within your ears. As the wax migrates toward the outer third of the ear canal and combines with shedding skin cells, it tends to become flaky and pale. This type of wax is completely normal and should not cause any concerns.


The presence of an odor in your ear wax may be a cause for concern. It could indicate an underlying infection. Certain bacteria emit foul smells, which can result in malodorous ear wax. If an ear infection becomes severe, it can potentially cause damage to the middle ear. Therefore, it is important to seek medical attention if you experience smelly ear wax.

Ear wax can be categorized into two primary types: wet and dry.

  • Wet cerumen: Wet cerumen, commonly found in Caucasians and Africans, has a stickier and more moist consistency. It appears yellowish and is produced in higher quantities by the ceruminous glands in the ear canal.
  • Dry cerumen: Dry cerumen, more prevalent among Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and individuals of Asian descent, has a drier and flakier texture. It is usually gray or light tan in color and contains fewer lipids and fatty acids.

Understanding your ear wax type based on wet or dry cerumen can provide insights into your genetic background and help you better understand your ear health.

Runny or liquid

It is important to differentiate between runny or liquid ear wax and wet ear wax. Runny ear wax is not the same as wet wax and should not be confused. Runny ear wax can occur after activities such as diving or swimming when the wax mixes with water. However, it is essential to consider that a more serious issue may be at play. Runny ear wax could be a result of a middle ear infection, a ruptured eardrum, damage to the ear canal, or even a skull fracture. If you have concerns about runny or liquid ear wax, seeking medical advice is highly recommended.


Blood in your ear wax should be of some concern to you because it is typically indicative of some type of ear injury. This could be something simple like a scratched ear canal or a cut inside the outer ear, or it could be caused by a more serious injury. If you can confirm that the injury is minor then it may heal like any other cut or scrape. However, if you aren’t sure where the blood is coming from it’s a good idea to seek medical attention when you notice blood in your ear wax. 

When to seek medical care

At times, you may observe a change in the appearance and texture of your earwax, specifically noticing it becoming cloudy with a runny consistency. In such cases, it is important to understand the potential underlying causes and determine the appropriate course of action. This guide aims to shed light on cloudy earwax, associated symptoms, and the importance of seeking medical advice for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Characteristics of Cloudy Earwax:

Cloudy earwax typically has a runny texture and may or may not possess an offensive smell. If you experience pain, itching, or a general discomfort within the ear along with the presence of this cloudy substance, it is important to address these symptoms promptly.

Bacterial or Fungal Infections:

The presence of a runny, cloudy substance in the ear, accompanied by associated symptoms, is often an indication of a bacterial or fungal infection. In such cases, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional who can assess the situation and prescribe appropriate ear drops for treatment. It is crucial to keep the affected ear dry and seek medical advice to prevent further complications.

Foreign Bodies in the Ear Canal:

In certain instances, foreign objects can become lodged in the ear canal, leading to unusual findings in earwax. If you notice anything out of the ordinary in your earwax, it is recommended to consult a doctor. The presence of debris or foreign objects within the ear may require manual removal by a trained professional. It is vital to avoid attempting to remove foreign objects using your fingers, cotton tips, or any other methods, as this can be dangerous and potentially cause serious damage.

When cloudy earwax with a runny texture is observed, it serves as an indication of potential underlying issues that require medical attention. The presence of associated symptoms such as pain, itching, or discomfort within the ear should not be overlooked. Seeking professional advice is crucial in order to accurately diagnose the cause and determine the most suitable treatment, which may involve prescription ear drops or the removal of foreign objects.

Remember, your ear health is important, and addressing any concerns promptly can help prevent further complications. By seeking medical guidance, you can ensure the appropriate management of cloudy earwax and associated symptoms, promoting overall ear well-being.

Purchase a ScopeAround Otoscope to check your ears!

The easiest way to know what type of ear wax you have is to look inside your ear with a digital otoscope. ScopeAround was the first company to make an ear cleaning camera for consumer use and they have the most experience and customer feedback manufacturing these devices. ScopeAround makes digital otoscopes that are stand-alone devices as well as ones that are compatible with iPhone (iOS) and Android mobile devices as well as PC (Windows) or Mac (OSX) computers.


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