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Now hear this!

By: Ivan Olegario, MD, MDevComNow hear this!

In grade school, we were taught the “How to take care of your ears” lesson. But because most of us value our vision more than our hearing, those lessons fell on deaf ears. So today, many of us would either have a hard time listening to dialogues when watching shows or tend to ask “Pardon? What was that?” when speaking with other people.

So in an attempt to relearn lessons of the past, lend your ears to common ear problems and find out how to prevent them.

Ear infections

Several parts of the ear can get infected—from the earlobe to the ear canal up to the middle ear behind the eardrum. Ear infections can cause ear pain, fever, ear discharge, and some hearing loss that can become permanent if untreated. Prevent ear infections by heeding the following tips:

  • Make sure you and your children are up-to-date with required vaccinations, especially pneumococcal vaccine and influenza vaccine.
  • Avoid putting objects inside the ear canal—including bobby pins and other objects that may scratch the skin covering the ear canal.
  • Avoid cigarette smoke, including second-hand smoke. Cigarette smoke increases your risk of ear, nose, lung, and windpipe infections.

Impacted cerumen

Cerumen or earwax can become impacted—compacted into a solid mass inside the ear canal that just won’t come out. The irony is this—impacted earwax is caused by using cotton buds to clean earwax off the ear canal. In almost all cases, the cotton bud instead pushes the ear wax deeper until the ear canal becomes filled with impacted earwax.

The prevention of impacted earwax is simple—avoid inserting long objects, including cotton buds, into your ears. For most people, earwax dries up and falls off the ear canal by itself. Additionally, your ears need a small amount of earwax to protect itself and keep infections away. However,  if you regularly experience ear itching, hearing problems, a sensation of full ear canals, ear discharge, odor or ear pain, some of your earwax may need removing—visit a doctor as soon as possible to have excess earwax removed.

Noise-induced hearing loss

The cells of the inner ear that detect sound are sensitive cells. Loud sounds and noises can damage them, resulting in noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). This condition can happen suddenly when the sound is extremely loud (e.g., an explosion). However, it can also occur gradually when you are exposed to moderate-intensity noise for a long period of time (i.e., constant use of headphones at a relatively loud volume or regular exposure to car horns).

The louder the sound, the shorter time it takes to cause substantial hearing loss.

When hearing loss is gradual, most people do not even notice that their hearing has begun to diminish. Over time, sounds may become muffled and you may have difficulty understanding what other people are saying. If you notice that you have to turn up the volume of the television/radio or you keep asking people to repeat what they say or speak louder, you may already have hearing loss.

But NIHL is completely preventable. Here’s how:

  • Try to avoid noise as much as possible (e.g., fireworks, loud concerts).
  • Wear earplugs or noise-canceling headphones if you expect to be exposed to loud noises.
  • Set the volume of your headphones to the lowest possible level that lets you enjoy the music you are listening or at least understand what is being played.
  • Have your hearing tested by an audiometrist or ear doctor.

Don't play deaf. Hear this sound advice and heed them. These could save your hearing. 


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