General ear health tips

on Aug 06, 2019

Five basics of ear cleaning and care

Read our top tips for maintaining healthy ears, and your hearing will thank you. Some of these might even surprise you!

1. Ears are self-cleaning. No cotton tips or candles required!

It’s normal to have some wax in your ears, even though you probably think it looks quite nasty! Wax has an important job to do, protecting your ear canal from dirt, dust, water, bacteria and even insects. 

Despite what many imagine, wax is produced in the outer part of the ear, not from deep inside. Because the ear is self-cleaning, chewing and other jaw movements then pushes wax towards the outside world. This is where you can use a washcloth or tissue to gently wipe it away. You may have heard the saying: never insert anything smaller than an elbow into your ear canal. Well, it’s absolutely true! By sticking cotton tips into your ear, you could actually do some real damage, pushing wax further in or even injuring your delicate ear drum. 

A small number of people do experience wax impaction, where the wax doesn’t naturally migrate out of the ear canal. Some symptoms include: earache, a blocked sensation, ringing in the ears, itching or discharge or changes to hearing. In this case, it’s best to see your doctor or a hearing care professional. They’ll be able to help you to clear the blockage and prevent it from happening again, through recommending some ear drops or even mineral oil. People with very waxy ears sometimes use ear drops weekly to keep the wax soft and easily moved.

You’ve probably heard of the ear candling craze, where a long hollow candle is placed into the ear canal while the other end is lit, in an attempt to draw out wax. This is one alternative therapy to steer clear of! Research shows that there is no proven benefit to removing wax via ear candling, and it can actually be seriously dangerous!

2. First do no harm. Protect your hearing from loud noise

Is your workplace too noisy? Australian Government’s WorkSafe reports that an estimated 1 million employees in Australia may be potentially exposed to hazardous levels of noise at work (if hearing protection isn’t worn).

The good news is that within most organisations there is a growing awareness of safe work practices, including hearing protection. If you’re unsure as to the measures your own workplace is taking, ask! Starting a conversation could inspire change that saves your own hearing, and that of others.

Regardless of whether you’re a music aficionado or a podcast fan, you’ve got to watch those volume levels! Earphones and earbuds could be putting your hearing at risk! The earbuds that you get with most phones and devices are actually the most dangerous, as they sit very close to the eardrum. If you listen to music a lot, it pays to invest in some over-the-ear headphones, and follow the 60/60 rule. The means listening at no more than 60% volume for no more than 60 minutes a day.

It’s not just headphones and earphones that we need to be mindful of. Music played at home, social events or in the car can cause hearing loss too. It’s safest to keep the volume at a level where you can still hold a conversation.

3. Keep an ear out for these symptoms

When it comes to ear health issues, we can’t recommend enough that you see your doctor or hearing professional immediately. Medical conditions of the ears can lead to permanent hearing damage if left untreated. Here are a few to look out for, in yourself and your family. 

Middle ear infections can occur in one or both ears. You might remember suffering this at some point when you were little – it’s not nice. It’s primarily seen in kids due to the shape of the Eustachian tube in young ears. If left undiagnosed and untreated, the middle ear infection can spread to infect the mastoid bone behind the ear, rupture the ear drum, and cause hearing loss. 

Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer ear structures caused when water – and bacteria – enter and become trapped in the ear canal. This moist environment causes bacteria to multiply, creating infection. Although it most often caused by swimming, bathing or showering can also be the culprit. Signs and symptoms include an itching inside the ear, a blocked sensation, and pain that gets worse when you pull your earlobe. To avoid swimmer’s ear, try to lightly towel dry around the ear opening after swimming. If you can feel water in the ear, try gently tugging your earlobe or moving your jaw back and forward to release it.

Tinnitus is a not a condition as such, but a symptom of something else that’s going on with your ears or body. Tinnitus presents as noises or ringing in the ears or head when there is no such external physical noise. It is often caused by exposure to excessive noise, and thus can affect both young and old. If you have tinnitus, you may also have hearing loss, so it’s best to see your local hearing care professional to get your hearing checked out.

4. Know your medicines

Did you know that some medications can affect your hearing? You might even have these in your own bathroom cupboard! The common over-the-counter medications, aspirin and ibuprofen, can cause temporary hearing loss when taken in large amounts, like 8-12 pills a day. Luckily, this side-effect can typically be reversed once the dose is stopped or reduced. 

The experts at Pharmacy Times recommend that you take your medications only as directed, and of course, see your doctor if you notice any changes to your hearing or experience ringing in the ears or balance problems. 

5. Look after the outside!

The outside of the ear, also known as the auricle, is important in funnelling sound into the ear. To complete the picture of ear health, make sure you look after this bit too. Applying sunscreen carefully to the tops and outside ridges of your ears will protect them from sun damage and skin cancers. If you have pierced ears, clean your earrings and earlobes regularly with rubbing alcohol to keep germs at bay.

If this article raised any ear health concerns for you, please book an appointment with an ihear hearing specialist today!

Author: ihear Australia