Often patients express surprise when I share some very basic information about hearing and ear health and hygiene. Either some of these topics are neglected at a physical exam or they are forgotten by the patient. Keeping our ears safe and healthy is an essential aspect of overall health. Hopefully, for most, the information below will serve as a friendly reminder and not new information.
Here are a few basics when it comes to taking care of your ears:
1) DO NOT USE Q-TIPS IN YOUR EARS! The best thing you can do with your Q-tips is to break them in half and toss them in the trash! Ear wax is a good thing. EAR WAX IS NOT DIRT! Ear wax is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, a natural bug repellent and it is there for a reason! Q-tip users who complain about itchy ears have itchy ears BECAUSE of Q-tip use. Scrubbing the natural oils from the ears depletes the canals of essential moisture causing itching and dryness. Stop the Q-tips, stop the itch. Remember nothing smaller than your elbow should ever go in the ear canal!
2) Protect your ears from noise ALL THE TIME! Both young and old should take care to protect the delicate hearing mechanism. Noise exposure damages the fragile hair cells that reside in the cochlea that are responsible for detecting sound. Damage to the hair cells can result in hearing loss. This can happen after one encounter with something extremely loud or over time with repeated exposures. Consider ear protection for home, on the job or for concerts or loud events.
3) Tinnitus or ringing in the ear should always be evaluated. If you or someone you know reports that they experience tinnitus, an audiometric evaluation should be performed by an audiologist. Often tinnitus is caused by damage to the auditory mechanism. An audiologist can also recommend different treatments to help manage tinnitus annoyance and when indicated can refer to the appropriate otologist.
4) Changes in hearing should receive prompt attention. Sudden changes in hearing such as ‘sudden deafness’ is considered a medical emergency and should receive immediate attention.
5) Dizziness or a sense of disequilibrium should be discussed with your physician or audiologist.
6) Hearing loss should be addressed as an important health issue. Untreated hearing loss has been linked to depression and social isolation. Recent studies have also linked untreated hearing loss to dementia.
7) There IS help for the hearing impaired. Speak with your audiologist and learn about your options for better hearing and hearing protection.
Stefanie Wolf, Au.D.