How Cotton Swabs can Damage your Hearing
In the case of earwax, an excessive amount can interfere with your hearing by blocking the ear canal. Alternatively, you may use a hearing aid and find wax plugs the tiny tubes and inters with amplification. This being the case, it might be your audiologist suggested you clean your ears regularly.
But did you know there is a right and a wrong way to clean your ears? Unfortunately, one of the most popular tools for the job, the cotton swab, may actually add to your problems. To understand why, it helps to learn a little about how earwax works.
Earwax is produced by the outer third of your external ear. The ear is equipped with a ‘wax elevator,’ a series of hairs that waft very slowly, pushing the wax up and out of the ear. This happens incredibly slowly, but is very efficient at what it does. This natural mechanism is nature’s way of ensuring the ear canal is self-cleaning, as the wax it produces eventually finds its way out, along with the impurities it trapped.
Cotton swabs, also known as cotton tips or cotton buds, are cheap and readily available. They also appear to be the perfect tool for cleaning the ears, but appearances can be deceptive. When your reach for a cotton swab and put it in your ear, you are highly likely to be pushing wax back in the direction from which it came.
Indeed, pushing wax deeper into the ear can also compact it and make a dense plug of wax. This plug sits just out of reach in the ear canal in an area where there is no wax elevator to move it out of harm’s way. Over time, a plug of wax can form and acts as an earplug, muffling your hearing.
If you regularly use cotton swabs and your hearing has deteriorated, then get your ears checked by a hearing care provider. They will use an instrument called an otoscope, to examine the ear canal and visualize problems such as a plug of wax. They can then use appropriate methods to flush out the ear and clean it. After this procedure, it’s also a good idea to have a hearing test, because it’s perfectly possible to have more than one problem. If you get the all clear this is excellent news, but if not, it’s a great opportunity to address those hearing issues.
And don’t forget; speak to your hearing care professional about the correct way to keep your ears clean for better hearing health.
All About The Inner Ear
Plainly put the inner ear looks like one crazy rollercoaster ride. With three loop-de-loops and a seashell type ending, it would be one crazy ride for sure. But it is what is in the structure that matters the most. The inner ear is a very complicated system that works in creating the sound we hear and sending the proper information off to the brain as well the inner ear maintains our balance. The inner ear consists of two main areas the cochlea, which is the hearing part of the ear and the vestibular system, which is the balance area of the ear. Within these two areas are two further defined structures of the inner ear the bony labyrinth, which is the hard outer structure of the inner ear and the membranous labyrinth, which is the softer area inside of the bony labyrinth inside the inner ear.
The cochlea is where sound is converted into the electrical impulses that will be sent and interpreted by the brain. The cochlea is shaped like a seashell and inside of it are all of the tiny little hairs floating around in liquid waiting for the correct sound to hit them to send of the electrical impulse to the brain. These tiny hairs are very fragile and can be easily damaged over time due to noise or disease. Once damaged these little hairs will never repair or regrow; once the damage is done it is irreversible. The electrical impulses are sent to the brain through the auditory nerve.
The vestibular system looks like three loop-de-loops on a rollercoaster. These canals are strategically placed for balance purposes and are known as the semicircular ducts. There is the anterior, the lateral and the posterior duct each containing a liquid that adjusts and work together to keep a person balanced.
The inner ear can be further broken down, but to be honest it can get kind of confusing. The inner ear is the end of how the ear works and how sound is transferred and interpreted by the ear to the brain of a person. It can be a little bit of an overwhelming process but very interesting to think about the process as a whole and how quickly it is executed.
The Safe Way to Clean your Ears
First, a couple of safety points. Do not use cotton swabs, because these push wax deeper into the ear where it can create a complete blockage. Also, if you have earache or experience a sudden loss of hearing, schedule an appointment with your hearing care provider immediately. It might be you have an ear infection or even a ruptured eardrum, in which case cleaning your ears is not advisable.
Regular ear cleaning once or twice a month helps prevent a buildup of excess earwax that could muffle your hearing or plug your hearing device. Don’t clean more often than this, unless advised by your doctor or hearing care professional, because this can lead to irritation of the skin lining the ear canal or excessive drying of the ear.
Your pharmacist or hearing healthcare practitioner can advise you on a good commercial ear cleaner to purchase or you can make a suitable solution at home. Here are two ‘recipes’ which have been deemed safe and effective.
The first involves mixing equal parts of:
• White vinegar
• Warm tap water
• Rubbing alcohol
Or alternatively try mixing equal parts of:
• Hydrogen peroxide
• Mineral oil
Mix up the ingredients fresh each time and put few drops of solution into your ear.
While you can pour the cleaning solution direct from a bowl or cup into your ear, this can be messy. You will find it helps to use an eye dropper or a syringe in order to control where you squirt the solution and the quantity.
Drip a few drops into the ear and then tip your head to one side and wait. It helps to have the ear canal as near vertical as possible, so the drops trickle downwards. This could be a good excuse to rest the opposite ear on a cushion and watch TV for ten minutes!
Then tip your head in the opposite direction while holding a pad of cotton wool over the ear to catch the mess. Don’t be tempted to push cotton wool into the ear as this can push debris deeper, instead, let it drain out and then gently wipe around the ear flap for a final clean up.
If you use hydrogen peroxide be aware you may hear a bubbling sound. This is nothing to worry about and is the peroxide fizzing up and helping to loosen debris.
One tip to make life easier is to clean your ears after bathing or a shower. The heat and humidity helps to soften the wax and facilitates cleaning. Popping the cleaning solution in after a shower makes it more effective for no extra effort. Remember, regular ear cleaning can improve your hearing health, but if you experience pain or discomfort always consult your hearing professional first.
Why Should I Visit an Audiologist?
Audiologists are often referred to as hearing doctors or ear doctors, and rightly so. These professionals have a comprehensive knowledge of the body’s auditory system and how sound works. They specialize in preventing, identifying, assessing and treating non-medical hearing disorders such as hearing loss, tinnitus and problems with balance. Most audiologists who practice at the clinical level possess a doctorate in audiology and must be nationally certified, as well as licensed to practice in their state. Some of the special skills an audiologist practices include the following:
• Conducting various types of hearing tests using specialized equipment
• Evaluating test results in order to diagnose hearing loss at all ages
• Conducting balance testing and providing treatment
• Presenting a variety of treatment options for hearing loss, including hearing aids and other assistive devices
• Fitting and adjusting hearing aids
• Providing hearing and speech rehabilitation, counseling, research and support
About 10 percent of the time, audiologists will identify medical causes of hearing loss, such as physical defects, trauma, infections or benign tumors. They refer these cases to an ENT (an otolaryngologist), who may recommend other medical treatments or surgery.
Most newborn infants are tested by an audiologist for hearing loss before being released from the hospital. After that, children receive periodic hearing checkups throughout their growing years, including school-based screening programs. As an adult, you may receive basic hearing screening as part of routine medical exams or checkups with your primary physician. Many of these tests aren’t designed to conclusively diagnose hearing loss, but rather to indicate the need for a full exam with an audiologist.
Besides these regular screenings, anyone who experiences sudden hearing loss or notices a gradual dulling of their hearing abilities should meet with an audiologist for a detailed exam as soon as possible. Many types of hearing loss are treatable; so trust one of your most valuable senses to the expert care of a licensed audiologist.
Different Types of Hearing Tests
There are a range of different hearing tests and diagnostic procedures that your audiologist can use to measure your hearing loss and pinpoint its precise cause. Which tests apply to you will depend on the severity and type of hearing loss you are experiencing, combined with other factors such as age, medical history and hearing history. Here are some details regarding possible tests and procedures:
• Pure tone audiometry (PTA): This is a standard test, designed to measure your hearing range in each ear. You can certainly expect this test at your first appointment; it is the first port of call for identifying the presence and extent of your hearing difficulties. You will be seated in a sound proof room and asked to wear headphones. The test operator will channel sounds of different pitches and volumes into each ear using a machine called an audiometer. You will be asked to signal to the operator every time you hear a sound, usually by pressing a button or raising your hand.
• Speech perception: This test measures your ability to understand speech without visual cues. It will involve you identifying or repeating words as you hear them, the words may be spoken by the operator or pre-recorded and played through headphones.
• Tympanometry: A healthy eardrum will allow sound to pass through it unimpeded. This test is designed to determine how well your eardrum is functioning. It will detect problems such as fluid behind the eardrum, perforated eardrum and abnormal movement of the eardrum. Tympanometry involves plugging the ear and slowly increasing the air pressure in the ear canal in order to measure the response of the eardrum.
• Tuning fork test: A tuning fork is a metal, fork-shaped instrument that emits sound waves when tapped lightly. The tuning fork test involves placing the vibrating fork against your head in various places. It helps to determine whether sound is passing though the inner and middle ear normally. Abnormalities could indicate conductive hearing loss.
• Bone conduction test: This test is a slightly more specific version of the tuning fork test, it involves gently placing a vibrating tuning fork against the bone behind your ear. This allows the sound waves to bypass the outer and middle ear. It helps your audiologist to determine if there are any problems with your inner ear or auditory nerves that could indicate sensorineural hearing loss.
• Auditory brainstem response (ABR): This test is much less common; it is usually only conducted if your audiologist suspects that your hearing loss could be caused by a problem with your auditory nerves, or a neurological disorder. It involves electrodes being placed around the head, which then measure the brain’s response to various auditory stimuli.
Tips For Choosing a Hearing Care Professional
Licensed professionals, usually audiologists or hearing instrument specialists (HIS), fit hearing aids. An audiologist has typically completed six to eight years of higher education and holds a Masters or Doctoral degree in Audiology. An HIS typically has completed licensure requirements as dictated by the state in which they practice. Licensure requirements vary from state to state and some states require audiologists have a dispensing license, in addition to their audiology license, while other states include dispensing under their audiology licensure.
When choosing a professional to work with, it is very important to remember that this is likely to be a relationship you will maintain for many years - much like the relationship with your primary physician. You should be comfortable with your provider, and should feel that you can express concerns to them when you have them. The professional you work with is well versed in the amplification (hearing aid) options they offer, and knows how to address any concerns or issues you have with the instruments.
Experienced - knowledgeable - professional
Since a hearing aid is an electronic device and therefore cannot be prescribed like eyeglasses, an appropriate hearing aid recommendation, and fitting is greatly dependent on the judgment and skill of the professional selecting the device. Education and experience are key factors in finding a qualified hearing healthcare provider.
Connecting with hearing care providers
Sometimes the best way to find a hearing professional is the simplest way - ask your friends with hearing aids who they recommend. Primary care physicians can also have good recommendations as they often hear the good and bad reviews from other patients.
Check the clinic out online and by word of mouth. What are their reviews like? Even bad reviews offer useful information; if the only thing someone has to complain about is the color of the chairs in the waiting area, the clinic must be pretty good.
When it comes to communication channels, we have three distinct media options today: paid, owned and earned. Paid media includes print, broadcast, direct mail, and online; the hearing industry is saturated with paid media. Savvy patients have learned to dig through ads to find the information they are seeking.
Owned media does not require paying a media outlet. It includes a provider’s website, blog and newsletter. Owned media the opportunity for hearing care providers to show (not just tell) what makes them different.
Earned media is achieved when the media and consumers promote a provider’s brand. Press coverage, word of mouth, online reviews, comments on blogs, shared links and social interaction are powerful sources of earned media.
Yelp is more commonly known as a source of reviews for restaurants, bars, and shopping. However, as people increasingly are crowdsourcing their consumer transactions, patients are increasingly turning to online physician ratings, just as they have sought ratings for other products and services, healthcare providers, including audiologists, are being reviewed more and more frequently on Yelp and other sites like Google+ Local and Angie's List. There are also health-specific review sites, like Healthgrades, RateMDs, and ZocDoc.
Down the road, as the “digital native” generation grow older and more of them require hearing healthcare, online reputation management will become even more important for audiologists and other hearing care providers.