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Lend me your ears: Earwax may lead us to cleaner homes

Taking our cue from earwax (or cerumen if you’re scientifically inclined) may pave the way to cleaner machinery and even cleaner air.
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You may want to prick up your ears for this, especially if you hate dusting. Researchers have recently been giving ear goop a think, and they're figuring out exactly how the stuff works. It's time you started contemplating the myriad wonders of earwax.

Working at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, researcher Zac Zachow filmed his team "mixing flour into a gob of pig's earwax". Ah, the hallowed halls of scientific advancement. The observed clump went from "from stickier to drier, with crumbs fraying away at the edges". Ear goop it seems, though wildly unpopular, is pretty neat. The dirtier wax tends to get with dust and debris, the crumblier it gets and the cleaner your ear eventually becomes. Science doesn't fully understand how exactly the dirt gets ushered out of the ear but it likely has to do with chewing and jaw movement. The dustier, crumbly wax bits simply slough out your ear. Gross? Yes. Helpful? Very much so. Side note, I just checked my shoulder for ear crud. Feel free to do the same, I'll wait.

Scientists also tested the theory on humans: apparently a "video inside the ear of someone eating a doughnut showed earwax bucking and shifting". So chewing cleans ears. Huh. Good news for the foodies out there. Though I'm now even further enamoured with the majesty of science, I have so many questions. Was eating a doughnut mandatory? Do carbs mean cleaner ears? Likely wishful thinking on my part but the study doesn't say. Only more research will tell.

Researcher Alexis Noel says this "dust-to-crumb scenario" that expedites the cleansing process when ear wax gets brittle isn't quite scientifically sound just yet. But was quick to add that  taking our cue from earwax (or cerumen if you're scientifically inclined) may pave the way to cleaner machinery and even cleaner air. Earwax science could very well ameliorate home air-filtration systems and put an end to dusting. One can only dream. Or make generous donations to earwax science, I guess, if you're feeling proactive.

Earwax, made up of sebum, secretions from your cerumenous glands and dead skin cells, though kind of high on ick factor, is there for a reason. It's one of your body's many self-cleaning agents and it boasts impressive protective qualities. It lubricates, keeps your inner melon from tiny foreign junk, fungi and insects (I'm looking at you earwig *shudder*) and even provides anti-bacterial properties to smaller hostile critters that may otherwise read your ear holes like a vacancy sign.

While we're generally obsessed with cleanliness and scrubbing out our dirty ear tubes, doctors have been imploring us for years to forego the potential shame of a waxy ear to leave well enough alone. "You should never stick anything smaller than your elbow in your ear" is common counsel. Why not? Well, ENTs get countless visits every year from people with impacted earwax caused by good old cotton swabs. Impacted earwax causes everything from headaches to dizziness to oozy discharge to pain. Yup. All the way up to hearing loss. Not fun. So maybe don't look down your nose (ear?) at the humble wax that silently defends your auditory canal. Earwax is a golden-brown guardian deserving a tiny medal of valor. Note: he'll probs just throw that medal out your ear hole though. That's just the kind of hero he is.

Forgive me while I wax poetic (sorry) but what a wonderful world it'd be if we could get that hero, or some equally stout-hearted gooey facsimile, working to purify our air. Or at least eradicating the threat of pollutants and creepy crawlies in our homes. Hear, Hear! Sorry, had to.

Whatever the future applications, if less time cleaning ears translates to less time cleaning homes maybe I'll stay my hand next time it reaches for a cotton swab. Either way, I'll surely keep my ear to the ground for more breakthroughs.


 Marc Beaulieu is a writer, producer and host of the live Q&A show guyQ LIVE @AskMen.

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