How to Care for Your Ears

Protecting Your Ears

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Our ears can be very vulnerable to injury.

Our ears can benefit from some tender loving care. Here are some ways to provide it.

Ear Accidents

Because we can't see our ears' inner workings as they transmit sound waves to our brain, we forget our ears can be vulnerable to injury. For instance, a slap on the ear or an injury while diving could cause a ruptured eardrum, the thin membrane that separates the outer ear from the middle ear.

But one of the most common causes of ruptured eardrum and other ear damage is putting an object into the ear. All too often, people do this because they think they're doing their ears some good -- such as relieving an itch or cleaning out wax. But, indeed, you can do serious harm. The old folk wisdom about not putting anything in your ear smaller than an elbow, though exaggerated, isn't such bad advice.

Acoustical Trauma

Being close to an explosion can leave you deaf instantly. Other acoustical damage, however, leads to hearing loss that comes on more slowly.

We live in an age when acoustical trauma -- injury from sound -- abounds, and we often don't even realize the potential for harm. It begins early in life. Studies have shown that as many as 60 percent of entering college freshmen already display some hearing loss. Much of that may be due to what's come to be commonly called noise pollution.

Loud noise can harm hearing by damaging the sensitive, tiny hair cells in the inner ear. Certain conditions can make these hair cells even more sensitive than usual. During aerobic exercise our blood diverts from our ears to our legs, arms, and heart. This altered blood flow makes the hair cells more vulnerable to noise. Thus, many fitness experts warn that you double your risk of permanent hearing loss when you jog while wearing headphones. Likewise, dancing to a blaring stereo boosts the already high potential for hearing damage. Recent studies have confirmed that many people have damaged hearing as a result of listening to loud music, either from frequent attendance at rock concerts or through the pervasive use of portable music players.

Damage from noise is related to two factors: loudness and duration. Loudness is measured in decibels. One point to remember about decibel scales is that an increase of only three decibels results in a doubling of sound pressure. So a jackhammer at 120 decibels is emitting much, much more than twice as much sound pressure as a normal conversation of 60 decibels.

When is enough, enough? Here are a couple simple tests to determine if you are submitting yourself to dangerous levels of sound.

  • If you are exposed to noise that makes it hard to understand someone a couple feet away who's speaking in a normal conversational voice, you're probably being exposed to about 90 decibels. Frequent exposure to that level can lead to hearing loss.
  • If after being exposed to noise, from any source, you have a slight, high-pitched ringing and a sense of fullness in your ears, you're experiencing a temporary loss of hearing ability. If that happens two or more times a week on a regular basis, you could be on your way to permanent hearing damage.

The solution is obvious: Stop the noise. Keep the boom box at a reasonable volume. If your headphones are so loud someone standing next to you can hear the music, you're overdoing it. The use of ear buds, rather than headphones, is thought to have a negative effect on hearing because the user must turn up the volume more to compensate for the outside noise that can get past the ear buds. Turn it down, and limit the length of exposure time.If you can't stop the noise because you work in a noisy environment, then shield your ears against it. Protective devices include acoustic earplugs or muffs. Some potential ear problems are not as obvious as loud noises. In the next section, you will learn how to prevent some other, less obvious, ear problems.

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.