Monday, June 6, 2011

All About Ears

10 Common Misconceptions about Hearing Loss and Ears:
1) Ear wax is gross and needs to be removed.

Facts: Ear wax (also called cerumen) is a natural secretion by the body as a means to protect itself from infection and even has properties that may make it smell bad to insects and repel them naturally.  Think of your ears as self-cleaning ovens, wax will generally make it out on its own without any removal.  A few people may require cerumen removal, but will only need to happen every 6 months or so.  If there is a blockage, use over the counter softening drops then go to the doctor for suction or water irrigation.

2) Ringing or buzzing in your ears in normal.

Facts: Often ringing or buzzing (called tinnitus) is a sign of hearing damage that has already occurred or is a symptom of another disease.  Some people experience buzzing/ringing to such a degree it is debilitating and they cannot lead normal lives.  There is no cure for tinnitus, and no pill or herbal supplement will make it go away. 

3) An iPod will protect your hearing.

Facts: iPods actually can be very loud, and may damage hearing when listened to at high volume (considered greater than 2/3 volume for greater than 60 min).  When mowing or during any other activity, ear plugs should be used.  By introducing further noise to the ears, greater damage may occur.

4) Q-tips, ear candling, hydrogen peroxide, and rubbing alcohol will get rid of ear wax.

Facts: 1/2 of the ear canal produces wax and the other 1/2 does not.  Q-tips will often push wax further into the canal where it cannot be pushed out naturally.  Ear candling will also change the natural pressure in the ear and may cause a rupture of the ear drum.  Hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol will also dry out wax and also cause damage to the skin in the ear canal and ear drum.  They should never be used, and only a medical professional should remove ear wax.

5) Hearing loss can be cured.

Facts: A hearing aid will only make sounds louder, and will not cure hearing loss.  No matter how much the sound is made louder, it will not become as clear sounding as it once was.  Your ears and brain also naturally very good at picking out in a noisy restaurant what is noise, and what is speech that you want to listen to.  With hearing loss, sound is distorted and will never sound normal again once the damage has occurred.  There are some types of sudden hearing loss that can be cured with steroids, but that is very rare.  Most hearing loss is permanent and will progress gradually.

6) I don’t need to protect my hearing when I am only ________ (insert age here).

Facts: All people are at risk for hearing loss, and it can happen to anyone no matter the age.  Infants and the elderly alike are all at risk for hearing loss.  Currently, there is research to suggest that noise exposure is growing greatly amongst “tweens” and young adults at an alarming rate.  One of the most important things you can do to protect your hearing is to wear ear plugs and have your hearing checked regularly. 

7) Only old people have hearing loss.

Facts: Actually hearing loss is one of the more common birth defects (partially due to premature birth and NICU exposure).  The prevalence of hearing loss is also going up and is partially thought to be related to noise exposure.  Hearing loss can happen to anyone at any age, and will cause a wide range of difficulty.

8) I just need sound to be loud enough to hear.

Facts: With sensorineural (nerve) hearing loss even if sound is made loud enough, it will not always be clear.  As I said before the brain is very good at filtering out noise from speech and without all the information, the brain will process the sound very differently.  So buying an over the counter amplifier (not a true hearing aid) will not be helpful. Instead see a hearing professional for a properly fitting device.  True hearing aids have additional features that help to compensate for the missing auditory information.

9) Hearing tests are only needed if there is a problem.

Facts: It is recommended that people have their hearing screened yearly and children or those with high risks of hearing loss should be monitored more frequently.  This way, if there is a problem it can be detected sooner.  Once hearing loss is identified, it should be tested annually, just like vision. 

10) Ear infections can be cured by antibiotics.

Facts: New research is emerging stating that the use of antibiotics to treat ear infections is actually contributing further to antibiotic resistant strains.  For children under 2, antibiotic ear drops are still the choice treatment, but a majority of cases clear up on their own without antibiotics.  However in the cases of middle ear infections or if fluid is present, antibiotics and other medications may be needed. 

I hope this was informative, but I just felt the need to spread some information that has been popping up frequently when interacting with patients on my external clinic placement.  I’m sure I’ll do another couple of these at some point, so stay tuned and take care of your ears :) This was meant to be simple information, not medical advice, if you have problems/specific questions see a local audiologist or feel free to email me.

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