Sunday, September 07, 2008
Eww or eureka? An ode to earwax
In the great drama that is medicine, there are obvious villains: cancer, heart disease, trauma. And there are glorious heroes: vaccines, antibiotics, artificial hearts, etc. It’s easy to wax poetic about such august matters. But we prefer the bit players on the medical stage – the unsung, largely forgettable conditions. Of these, nothing is as gloriously mundane as earwax.
Earwax – or cerumen, as it’s known in the biz – is made up of keratin (the stuff of dead skin) along with fatty secretions, a mix that protects the ear canal from water and infection.
There are two types of cerumen: wet and dry. Wet cerumen, which is light or dark brown and sticky, has a relatively high concentration of lipid and pigment granules. Dry cerumen, which is grey or tan and brittle, tends to have less fat and pigment. The wet wax tends to be most frequent in Caucasians and African Americans, while the dry version is found in the ear canals of Asians and Native Americans. (We’re surprised that no enterprising screenwriter has come up with some nightmare, doomsday scenario in which the world is ultimately Balkanized into two warring camps, The Wet Cerumens and The Dry Cerumens, whose internecine battle results in the destruction of the planet.) Continue Reading >>
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