Advancements over the past 40 years in healthcare, nutrition and standard of living means we are living to a older age than previous generations. Along with exposure to noise and sometimes, trauma to the ears – hearing loss has become more common.
The damaging effects of loud noise are accumulative. Uncontrolled loud noise can be avoided in part to protect against hearing loss. If you walk into a room so noisy that you cannot have a conversation the noise level is likely to be having some effect on your inner ear, if the noise is painful, middle ear muscles contract to limit the noise input to your inner ear (the body’ way of protecting your ear from noise damage). There are a multitude of different protective ear plugs to avoid noise in many environments, e.g. concerts, shooting, engine noise at race events.
Leave your ears alone
The ear canal is self-cleansing in the vast majority of people, the skin cells of the ear drum and ear canal slowly migrate out of the ear canal taking wax with it. Cotton buds push wax the wrong way, introduce infection and may damage the natural migration of skin and debris by causing dermatitis.
Avoid certain medications
You will often hear of the potentially damaging toxic effect of ear drugs such as potent antibiotics (the aminoglycoside family) or chemotherapeutic drugs used in cancer treatments. There is some evidence that long term use of significant amount of aspirin may also damage your hearing. Some people are more genetically susceptible to these effects than others.
Avoid direct trauma to the ears
Use ear plugs when water skiing or on airplanes if you suffer from barotrauma. It is a good idea to avoid pushing cotton buds or any other instrument into the ear which may damage the ear drum. Use ear protection when taking part in contact sports such a boxing to avoid blunt compressive injury to the ear drum.
Seek immediate medical advice
If you notice hearing loss, seek medical advice as soon as possible. Sudden hearing loss in 1 ear is a medical emergency and you should seek urgent attention with your GP or specialist. You should also seek advice or investigation if you notice hearing loss in 1 ear or progressive hearing loss in both ears not consistent with you age. See your GP and ensure an appropriate referrals are made.
Tinnitus (ringing sound in the ears) is present in 17% of the population at some stage in their life but may be associated with hearing loss and should not be ignored.
New techniques for hearing loss include semi-implantable hearing aids for people who have problems with conventional aids, middle ear implants for conductive losses, and endoscopic ear surgery for ear drum perforations and chronic middle ear disease.