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Today in Health & Wellness
HEALTH CONDITIONS

Ear Health

Overview
Symptoms
Treatment and Management
Doctors to Consult
Overview

The ear is the organ responsible for hearing and balance. It also helps equalize pressure when we swallow, yawn and sneeze and in the stabilization of eye movement. Ears are delicate organs that can often have problems caused by damage, bacteria or changes in the environment. When it comes to ear health, prevention is better than cure because it is almost impossible to repair the hearing loss.

Common Causes of Ear Damage

  • Noise. Ears are sensitive organs and can be damaged by excessive noise (above 85 decibels). Tinnitus or ringing in the ears after exposure to a loud sound is a warning sign that your ears have been overloaded.
  • Disease. Some diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella (German measles) and meningitis can cause loss of hearing.
  • Injury. Skull fracture, perforation of the ear drum or changes in air pressure (barotrauma) can cause hearing damage.
  • Drugs. Some drugs are toxic to the ears (ototoxic), specifically the cochlea or auditory nerve or sometimes the vestibular system. Examples of these drugs are loop diuretics (e.g. furosemide), antibiotics (e.g. ampicillin, erythromycin etc.) and antineoplastic (anti-cancer) drugs such as cisplatin. Consult with your doctor before taking a medication.
Symptoms

Common Ear Conditions:

  • Otitis media- is the inflammation of the middle ear. It is common in children. When left undiagnosed and untreated, can lead to a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.
  • Swimmer's ear (otitis externa) -is the infection of the outer ear (pinna and ear canal). It is caused when water gets trapped in the ear canal leading to bacteria buildup. It is common in swimmers although bathing or showering can cause this as well. In severe cases, ear canal may swell shut leading to temporary hearing loss and make it hard to deliver medication.
  • Cerumen (ear wax) impaction- Although earwax is self-cleaning, it sometimes accumulates and blocks the eardrum.
  • Meniere's disease-a condition in which the inner ear malfunctions, and usually affects only one ear. It affects balance and hearing. Vertigo, tinnitus, hearing loss and pain are common symptoms.
  • Tinnitus -Ringing in the ears usually caused by noise exposure or aging.
  • Cholesteatoma is the buildup of skin or cyst in the middle ear. This condition may result from otitis media but can also be present at birth. It is treatable but if left untreated, can lead to bone erosion and spread of infection to the inner ear and brain which can lead to deafness, brain abscess, and meningitis. Symptoms are pain in or behind your ear and foul-smelling fluid discharge.
  • A ruptured eardrum is a tear in the eardrum caused by very loud noises, sudden changes in air pressure, infection or foreign objects.
  • Barotrauma-happens when there is a sudden change in barometric or water pressure. It typically occurs when traveling in high altitudes like when in an airplane or diving into deep waters. It can usually be fixed by "popping" the ears by yawning, chewing gum or blowing outward while keeping the nose pinched and mouth closed.
Risk Factors
Commonly Prescribed Drugs
Treatment and Management

Proper Way to Clean the Ears

Earwax or cerumen is a self-cleaning agent produced by the body which helps protect and lubricate the ears. It also has antibacterial properties. The absence of earwax can lead to dry and itchy ears. In the process of "self-cleaning", old earwax and skin cells are pushed outside from the eardrum to the ear opening by chewing and jaw motion where it usually dries, flakes and falls out. Usually, ear canals should never have to be cleaned unless earwax accumulates in the ear.

In cleaning your ears:
  • It is best to clean your ears after your shower because the cerumen is still soft.
  • Do not use cotton swabs/buds because it will just push the wax deeper into the canal causing the blockage.
  • Do not use long, pointy objects like bobby pins and ear candles as it can cause injuries.
  • Instead of cotton swabs, use a washcloth or tissue with olive or baby oil to clean your outer ear.

Tips for Healthy Ears

  • Avoid exposure to noise as much as possible.
  • When listening to music, avoid high volume levels.
  • When exposed to loud noise, wear hearing protection such as earplugs or earmuffs.
  • Treat upper respiratory tract infections promptly.
  • Dry your ears after bathing.
  • If scuba diving, learn and practice proper techniques to avoid ear damage caused by pressure. When in an airplane, swallow and yawn frequently to equalize ear pressure.
  • For any signs of hearing loss and problems with balance, consult your doctor immediately.
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