Tagged: ear wax

What Causes Tinnitus?

August 8, 2016

Tinnitus itself is not a disease process but a symptom of an underlying issue. A number of health conditions can cause or worsen tinnitus, an annoying ringing, buzzing or hissing sound that occurs in the ears of nearly 50 million Americans. In many cases, an exact cause is never found. If you experience tinnitus, you shouldn’t worry. Very rarely is tinnitus caused by something that is dangerous to your health. Understanding what tinnitus is and what could possibly cause it or exacerbate it can help alleviate some of the stress and irritation that most tinnitus sufferers report experiencing.

A common cause of tinnitus is damage to the inner ear hair cells of the cochlea, a spiral-shaped cavity in the bone of the skull just behind the ear that resembles a snail shell and contains nerve endings essential for hearing. These tiny, delicate hairs sit in a fluid and move in relation to the pressure of sound waves through the fluid. This movement triggers an electrical signal through the auditory nerve that travels from the ear to the brain. The brain then interprets these signals as sound. If the hairs inside the cochlea are bent or broken, they can produce random electrical impulses to the brain, which are then interpreted as sound. This sound is what we call tinnitus.

Other causes of tinnitus include middle ear problems, chronic health conditions and injuries to or conditions that affect the auditory nerve or the hearing center of the brain.

Common causes of tinnitus
In most instances, the exact cause of tinnitus is unknown. There are some health conditions, however, that are known to cause tinnitus:

Exposure to loud sounds: Long-term noise exposure on the job is a leading cause of hearing loss, especially in men. Loud noises from industrial equipment, construction sights and from the use of firearms by our military are common sources of noise-related hearing loss. Personal music players, such as MP3 players or iPods can cause noise induced hearing loss over time as well. Tinnitus can also occur with short-term exposure to loud noise. For instance, you may experience a ringing in the ears after attending a loud concert. This type of tinnitus usually goes away within hours while long-term exposure to loud sound can cause permanent damage.
Excessive earwax: Earwax protects your ear canal by trapping dirt or other intruders and by helping to slow the growth of the bacteria and fungus that naturally occur in the ear. When too much earwax accumulates, however, it can be difficult for the ear to rid itself of the wax, which occurs naturally with time. Excessive wax accumulation can cause hearing loss and a low pitched ringing or roaring in the affected ear.
Changes in the bones of the middle ear: Stiffening of the joints between the bones of the middle ear, the smallest bones of the body, is called otosclerosis. This stiffness happens gradually and may affect hearing as well as cause tinnitus. This condition, often referred to as arthritis of the middle ear tends to run in families.
Age-related hearing loss: Accumulation of birthdays happens to the best of us. For many people, hearing worsens as those birthdays accumulate. Hearing loss in the high frequencies is the most common cause of tinnitus. The medical term for hearing loss due to the aging process is presbycusis.
Stress: It is suggested that stress increases pressure on the nerves that run up the back of the neck, increasing the likelihood of tinnitus. The exact source is unknown but increased tension in the muscles of the neck and shoulders is common in those who are exposed to situations of excessive long-term stress.

Less common causes of tinnitus
Some causes of tinnitus are less common and in most cases, the causes of the tinnitus are a more important focus than the tinnitus itself.

Meniere’s disease: This disorder of the inner ear balance system causes an excessive accumulation of fluid in the inner ear. The tinnitus experienced by those with Meniere’s disease is often described as a low-pitched roar.
Jaw disorders: The temperomandibular joint (TMJ) juts up into the ear canal when the mouth is opened widely. In some instances, disorders of this joint can cause ringing in the ears.
Traumatic injury to the head or neck: Most commonly caused by sudden trauma, injuries to the head or neck can cause neurological disorders that can affect the organs of the inner ear or the auditory nerve itself. In some instances, traumatic injury can cause dysfunction in the area of the brain that processes sound. These type of injuries most commonly cause ringing in only one ear.
Tumor: An acoustic neuroma, a non-cancerous tumor that develops on the auditory nerve, can cause tinnitus in the ear that has the tumor.
Blood flow issues: With the aging process, it is not uncommon to develop a buildup of deposits, called plaque in the major blood vessels of the body. If a buildup happens close to the middle or inner ear, the blood vessels lose the ability to flex or expand optimally with each heartbeat. This can cause blood flow to become more forceful, making it easier for the ear to detect the beats. This type of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus.
Medications: Take a look at the side effects of most prescription medications and you might be surprised at how many have the possible side effect of tinnitus. In general, a physician isn’t as concerned with causing tinnitus as treating the symptoms of a disease or condition. Generally speaking, the higher the dose of a medication, the worse the tinnitus becomes. Often the unwanted noise disappears when the medication is stopped. If you experience tinnitus, talk to your doctor about other alternatives. If your curious about the medications you are currently taking, visit drugwatch.com for the side effects associated with the most commonly prescribed medications.

If you have tinnitus, talk to your doctor or hearing healthcare provider. He or she will make sure to pursue every avenue to determine what is causing the ringing in your ears. Although tinnitus is not often curable, talking with your healthcare provider can start you down the right path toward finding a solution or, in the least, increasing your understanding of what may be causing it and what you need to do to relieve the stress and irritation that tinnitus often causes. Call today and make an appointment for a tinnitus evaluation. We’ll be happy to help.

Sudden Hearing Loss – A True Emergency

March 28, 2016

 
Sudden hearing loss can be a scary thing. It can happen all at once or over a period of several days. In either case, it should be considered a true emergency and requires a visit to a doctor or audiologist immediately. An audiologist may be able to see you more quickly than your regular physician and with sudden hearing loss time is of the essence. Your audiologist will perform several diagnostic tests and will be able to determine if you need to see a specialist immediately or if the cause of the hearing loss is something as simple as a wax impaction, which can be treated while in the office. If the hearing loss is due to an infection and you do not see your doctor or audiologist within the first 72-hours after the hearing loss begins, the hearing loss may become permanent.

When hearing loss happens suddenly, it affects only one ear in 9 out of 10 people. Many people notice it when they wake up in the morning. Others will first notice it when they try to use the phone or when they can’t hear their alarm when one ear (the better hearing ear) is face-down into their pillow. It’s also not uncommon for someone with sudden hearing loss to experience dizziness or a ringing in the affected ear, called tinnitus, at the same time that the hearing loss is recognized.

There are many different causes for a sudden hearing loss but often, the specific cause is never identified. It is possible that the hearing loss is something as simple as wax in the ear canal or fluid behind the eardrum. But, the more sinister causes require immediate treatment by a physician. In fact, the sooner treatment is begun, the more likely hearing will be restored. If you’ve experienced a sudden change in your hearing, don’t wait to call your physician or audiologist. The sooner you make an appointment, the better.

Nothing Smaller Than Your Elbow: Your Ear Canal is Self-cleaning!

February 1, 2016

Did your mother ever tell you, “don’t cross your eyes or they’ll get stuck that way”? Or, how about “don’t swallow your chewing gum, it takes seven years to pass through your digestive system.” What about, “don’t put anything in your ears that’s smaller than your elbow”? Unlike the first two, this old wives tale is actually true. There are some very delicate structures at the end of your ear canal, including the eardrum and the three smallest bones in the body, which are housed in the middle ear behind the eardrum. Cleaning your ears can potentially cause damage to the middle ear system. And, using cotton swabs, a hair pin or your house key to clean your ear canals might feel good or give you a sense of accomplishment but can actually cause earwax to become lodged in the far reaches of the ear canal, requiring removal by your physician or audiologist.

So, if I my elbow doesn’t fit, what do I use to clean my ear canals?

Believe it or not, your ear canals are self-cleaning. Glands in the ear canal produce oil and earwax (cerumen). These secretions are meant to coat the ear canal in order to prevent dryness, trap dirt and dust particles and they act as a natural bug repellant, too. The secretions will gradually move out of the ear canal on their own. If you must, you can use a home remedy of a 50/50 mixture of warm water and white vinegar dropped gently into the ear canal with a bulb syringe. If done regularly, this mixture can keep earwax from building up but may dry out the skin of some people. If you happen to have dry skin anyway, earwax and sloughing skin may stick to the canal wall if not managed regularly. A drop or two of olive oil or mineral oil placed in the ear canal each day can help earwax stay moist and will keep it moving in the right direction: out of your ear canal.

For those who wear a hearing aid, having the ear canals checked regularly by an audiologist is a great way to make sure excess wax doesn’t develop. The last thing you want is for wax to get in the way of sound getting through to the rest of the system. But let your provider take care of the wax and leave the cotton swabs for art projects, the hair pins for holding a ballerina’s bun and your house key for opening your mail. Your mother would be proud you did.

How to Take Care of Pesky Ear Wax!

August 24, 2015

 
There are some simple home treatments that help keep your ear canals clear of wax and keep your hearing aids from malfunctioning when too much wax builds up. Here are some suggestions to continue experiencing uninterrupted optimal hearing, with or without hearing aids.

First, a few words of caution:
If you happen to have a hole in your eardrum, should never put any solutions in the ear unless directed by a doctor to do so. Also, there is a possibility that cold liquids placed in the ears can cause dizziness, so warm any solution to body temperate by holding the bottle in a closed hand for a few minutes before putting the solution into the ear canal. It may be best to have a family member assist with putting the drops in the ear to make sure the right amount is placed in the canal.

For monthly maintenance care:

There are some very effective over-the-counter cerumen (earwax) softening drops available. Debrox, by Johnson&Johnson is an effective solution if you follow the instructions closely. Another option that your Audiologist will recommend is called Audiologists Choice eardrops. Both products contain carbamide peroxide, a thicker relative of hydrogen peroxide. Using hydrogen peroxide can change the pH balance of the ear canal and cause itching and irritation. Using this close relative to hydrogen peroxide is generally a better a choice if excessive earwax is an ongoing issue.

It is not recommend that you use a bulb syringe or any other device to flush out the ears. The wax will come out on its own using the proper agent and by just giving it time. Using water to flush the ears could be painful and ultimately, counter-productive as the water can cause the wax to block off the ear completely, causing pain, itching and possibly temporary hearing loss.

For monthly preventative maintenance, using a few drops of mineral oil once a week in each ear promotes good ear canal skin moisturizing and keeps itching away. Putting these drops in your ears should be done in the evening after taking hearing aids out of the ears to prevent plugging up of the aids with the oil.

Each time you come into the office we’ll check your ears to make sure your canals are free of excessive earwax and to insure that your hearing aids are clear of wax as well. Keeping your ear canals and hearing aids wax free will not only help with better hearing acuity, but will prevent costly repairs a to check and keeping you hearing what you want to hear. Please give the office a call if you’d like us to take a look at your ear canals or your hearing aids. We’d love to help!

Wax Is the Culprit!

August 17, 2015

People using hearing aids frequently blame the hearing aids themselves when a break down happens or when they aren’t working properly. It can be extremely frustrating when the darn things are whistling or plain not working at all. Amazingly enough, most hearing aid breakdowns can actually be blamed on your own ears! Wax build up in the ear canal can cause all kinds of problems for hearing aids as well as for hearing!

When there is excessive wax in the ear canal, it can produce a barrier for sound that comes from the hearing aid. The wax barrier makes the sound bounce back to the microphone on the hearing aid, causing an annoying whistling sound. Wax can also plug up the hearing aid speaker port and make the sound quality change or cause the aid to completely stop working. The thing is, the wax accumulation may “plug up” the sound but in every other way, the hearing aid can be working perfectly fine. So, you see, wax accumulation in your ears may be your high tech hearing aid’s biggest obstacle to obtaining great hearing!

So how do you fix the problem?

Many people try to solve this problem by cleaning their ears with Q-tips, bobby pins, match sticks, or other sharp, pointy and otherwise inappropriate instruments of torture. Most of the time they push the majority of the wax deeper into the ear canal while risking injury to the sensitive skin of the canal. Irritating the skin of the ear canal can cause a dermatitis that makes the ears itch. This causes the person to want to clean their ear canal again and continue to irritate the sensitive skin in the canal. And so the cycle continues. Follow your own mother’s advice, don’t stick anything in your ear that’s bigger than your elbow!

Look for advice on home treatments in an upcoming article!