Remember, taking care of your hearing is a small price to pay for healthy ears – even if you’re young and your hearing is fine. Here, a leading expert shares how to keep your ears at optimum health.
1. Resist the temptation to use earbuds
Ear canal infections are often seen in people who use earbuds or fingers to clean their ears as they damage the delicate skin, making it more susceptible to infection.
Remember, too, to dry your ears thoroughly after taking a bath and especially after swimming, if you’re in and out of the water.
‘Holiday ear’ is how we refer to an infected ear canal as a result of prolonged exposure to water, but it’s easily treated with antibiotics. Swim Ear and Ear Calm are both good products that help to dry out the ear canal.
2. Try to avoid flying when you have a cold
This is important especially if you get ‘aeroplane ear’ (pain during take-off and landing). This occurs because there’s an unequal air pressure inside the ear in comparison to the atmosphere outside, due to blockage of the Eustachian tube, and can be very painful.
Sometimes, a perforation or rupture of the ear drum can occur, and although it will heal naturally over the next few days or weeks, the middle ear is more vulnerable to infection in the meantime. Using a decongestant, especially before descent, helps to open up the Eustachian tube and minimise the risk.
3. Limit exposure to loud noise
Music, machinery and even blenders can expose us to over the safe noise limit – 85 decibels (dB) for long periods. MP3 players in Europe have a default limit of 85 dB – if you’re listening on headphones and others can hear, it’s too loud. Long-term exposure to high noise levels can damage hearing for good, so use earplugs if you’re in a noisy environment.
If you use plugs when sleeping, clean them regularly and ensure they’re snug but not tight, or you risk infection; tailor-made plugs are pricier but better for ears. If you use plugs intermittently, say at work, ear defenders may be better – just as effective, but less invasive.
Read more: The podcasts that are good for your health
4. Learn to manage tinnitus
Usually a noise such as ringing or buzzing in the head or ears, tinnitus can be low, medium or high-pitched, and be present some or all of the time. It may result from long-term exposure to loud noise (over 85 dB), although there are many other causes. It is usually due to damage to the inner ear (or cochlea) and seems loudest in a quiet environment or when under stress.
Cognitive behavioural management can help sufferers deal with this debilitating condition that affects over 10 per cent of the British population or one in eight people over 60 years of age. As yet, there’s no absolute cure.
5. Don’t assume hearing loss only affects older people
There are many causes, from childhood through to old age, from conditions such as congenital loss, infection, glue ear and otosclerosis. The latter is caused by new bone growth around one of the little bones in the middle ear and can limit its movement and so the transmission of sound. It often runs in families and can be treated with either hearing aids or surgery.
6. Use eardrops made of sodium bicarbonate to dissolve impacted wax
A common symptom of wax build-up is mild hearing loss, known as conductive deafness, as sounds can’t pass freely through the ear canal because of a blockage. Olive oil is often recommended, and although it’s not as effective, it will soften wax prior to syringing.
7. Investigate one-sided hearing loss
If no obvious cause is found, it may be due to benign tumours on the nerve bundle leading into the brain. Very rarely, it can be caused by a cancerous growth in the post-nasal space, which leads to fluid build-up (or glue ear), and should always be investigated as early diagnosis can affect a positive outcome.
Mr David A Bowdler is an ear, nose and throat (ENT) consultant at University Hospital, Lewisham, and partner at London ENT Surgeons with over 30 years’ experience.