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How to Care for Your Ears

        Health | Hygiene Tips

Ear Disorders
©2006 Publications International, Ltd. A simple ear problem can result in hearing loss or deafness.

If you are exposed to high decibels for a prolonged period of time you can develop a serious ear condition. Other hearing disorders are only temporary. Here is a quick guide.

Deafness and Hearing Loss

Hearing loss falls into two categories: conductive, which involves sound transmission abnormalities in the middle and outer ear, and sensorineural, which involves the inner ear. Conductive loss can usually be corrected; sensorineural is much more difficult to treat.

Conductive hearing loss might result, for example, when impacted earwax prevents sounds from reaching the inner ear, where sounds are translated into electric nerve impulses that are transmitted to the brain. Other causes of conductive loss might be an injury to the eardrum or a middle-ear infection.

In sensorineural loss, there is nerve failure. Thus, even though sound vibrations reach the inner ear, they don't get sent on as impulses to the brain. This type of hearing loss results from nerve damage, which can be caused by old age, viral infection, loud noises, or the side effects of medication, to name just a few.

Deafness, or the total absence of hearing, can result from either conductive or sensorineural loss, or a mix of the two types. Whenever you suspect hearing loss, you need to see an ear specialist who can identify the root cause or causes.

The best way to deal with hearing loss is to do all you can to prevent it in the first place. But if you already have hearing loss, a hearing aid may help.

Today's hearing aids have gone high-tech; they're much sleeker, smaller, and more effective than the devices of yesteryear. There are three main types: behind the ear, in the ear, and in the canal, each having particular advantages and disadvantages. The canal version is smallest and, therefore, least visible, but because of its limited size it can't hold as much circuitry and isn't as versatile in its functions. It amplifies all sounds equally, rather than being programmable to amplify sounds selectively.

The effectiveness of hearing aids comes down to a few key factors. First, the doctor must prescribe the type of hearing aid that's right for the individual. The wearer also has to use the device properly and communicate their needs clearly to the doctor. Just as important, the user must have realistic expectations about what the hearing aid can do.

Earache

When you have an earache, suddenly your ears seem bigger than life. The pain distracts every thought and absorbs every ounce of your attention. And you just want it to end.

Earaches can be caused by a blocked eustachian tube -- the thin tube that connects the inside back portion of the nose with the middle ear. The air in the middle ear is constantly being absorbed by its membranous lining, but the air is never depleted as long as the eustachian tube remains open and able to resupply air during the process of swallowing. In this manner, the air pressure on both sides of the eardrum stays about equal. But when the eustachian tube is blocked, the pressure in the middle ear can't be equalized. The air that's already there is absorbed and, without an incoming supply, a vacuum occurs in the middle ear, sucking the eardrum inward and stretching it painfully taut.

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Air travel is a common cause of ear aches.

This type of earache is particularly common in people who travel by air, especially when they have a cold or stuffy nose. The air pressure in the middle ear doesn't equalize on takeoff and landing as it would if the eustachian tube were unblocked.

Another leading cause of earache is ear infection. Infections of the middle ear are extremely common in children. This sort of infection develops when bacteria or viruses--usually from colds or sore throats--make their way up the eustachian tube. As a result of the infection, the eardrum can become swollen and inflamed.

Because an untreated ear infection can lead to permanent hearing loss, and because ear pain can sometimes reflect a problem in another part of the body, it's important to have an earache checked by a doctor.

Labyrinthitis

Severe dizziness or vertigo -- a sensation that the room is spinning -- is scary and can stir worries that something is dreadfully wrong. If it happens to you, you should see a doctor immediately. It's possible that the root of your problem is labyrinthitis, an infection of the labyrinth -- a group of fluid-filled chambers in the inner ear. The labyrinth controls balance. Even though the vertigo will make it extremely difficult for you to function, the infection itself is not dangerous. Bed rest is usually the main treatment. Your doctor may give you medications to combat the dizziness, as well as the nausea and vomiting you may also experience. In most cases, symptoms clear up within one to three weeks. Recurrent episodes of vertigo should be investigated by a physician as they can represent some other underlying condition.

Tinnitus

Everyone gets a little ringing in their ears at times. But when it goes on incessantly, it can drive you nuts. The medical name for this ringing-in-the-ear sensation is tinnitus. It is the result of damage to the tiny hair cells in the inner ear. These hair cells pick up sound vibrations and send electrical impulses through the auditory nerve to the brain. In tinnitus, the hair cells are "on" all the time, making the brain think that sound vibrations are entering the ear nonstop.Possible causes of tinnitus include acoustical trauma (loud noise), earwax, infection, the side effect of certain medications (more than 200 medications can case tinnitus), a perforated eardrum, fluid accumulation, high blood pressure, a tumor, diabetes, and aging.To stop the buzz, try the following:

  • Stop the loud noise, or wear ear protection.
  • Keep your blood pressure down.
  • Cut down on salt, which may sometimes be a problem for tinnitus sufferers.
  • Limit aspirin; chronic intake (or even frequent use over one or two days) can cause tinnitus. Talk to your physician before stopping any medication that you think might be causing tinnitus.
  • Avoid caffeine, tobacco, and addictive substances, which can also trigger tinnitus.
  • Work it out; if poor circulation is the cause of ringing in your ears, exercise will help.
  • Be sure you're getting enough rest.

It's important to take care of your ears to prevent serious problems from occurring. Hopefully, you can now also tell the difference between the ringing in your ears after a concert and the signs of a serious problem.©Publications International, Ltd.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.