YOU (South Africa)
How to look after your hearing
Here’s what you need to know to protect your hearing and manage existing hearing loss
NOBODY wants to admit they can’t hear well but hearing loss can develop at any time during your life, and it can happen suddenly or more gradually. What’s most alarming is that many people aren’t even aware their hearing is less than perfect and fail to seek help.
Here’s a handy guide that will help you protect your hearing and identify potential hearing problems.
To understand what can go wrong with your hearing and how to protect it, it helps to know more about the ear’s structure and what each part does. Your ear is made up of three interconnected parts – the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. Damage to any of these could make it hard for you to hear well.
This is the visible part on each side of your head. It’s made up of folds of skin and cartilage called the pinna, which identify the direction of sound, and the ear canal, which leads into your head.
This is an airfilled cavity between the eardrum and inner ear. It ’ s connected to the back of your nose and throat by the eustachian tube. This tube adjusts the air pressure in the middle-ear space to match the air pressure on the outside of the eardrum. It contains the hammer, anvi l and stirrup.
Consists of a complicated series of channels and chambers. It’s made up of the cochlea and the semicircular canals which are mainly responsible for controlling your sense of balance.
Hearing loss can result if there’s a problem at any point in the hearing pathway – in the outer, middle or inner ears, or in the complex auditory nerve pathway to the brain.
Like other parts of your body, your ears are vulnerable to the effects of genetics, i l lness, accidents, the environment and the normal ageing process.
Hearing loss can occur in one or both ears and can be:
■ Congenital (present at or soon after birth) or acquired (develops later)
■ Conductive (caused by blockage or damage in the outer and/or middle ear)
■ Sensorineural (caused by damage to or malfunction of the cochlea or to the hearing nerve)
■ A mixture of both conductive and sensorineural.
Conductive hearing loss
This is caused by blockage or damage in the outer and/or middle ear and leads to a loss of loudness. It can often be helped by medical or surgical treatment. It’s caused by:
■ Blockages of the ear canal by wax, water or foreign objects SOuter ear infection (sometimes the result of swimming)
■ Glue ear (middle ear infection), a common problem in young children
■ Perforated eardrum, as a result of an accident or a bad middle-ear infection
■ Otosclerosis, a hereditary condition where the bone grows around the tiny stirrup bone in the middle ear
■ Partial or complete closure of the ear canal.
Sensorineural hearing loss
This type of hearing loss can be acquired or congenital and leads to a loss of loudness as well as a lack of clarity. It’s caused by:
■ The ageing process
■ Diseases such as meningitis and Meniere’s disease
■ Excessive noise exposure
■ Viruses, such as mumps and measles
■ Medications which can damage the hearing system
■ Head injuries
Hearing and ageing
Presbycusis is the term for what goes wrong with the hearing mechanism when your ears age. It develops slowly and gradually, usually affecting highpitched sounds first. For example, it may be difficult for you to hear the high-pitched sound of a telephone ringing but you may be able to hear the low-pitched sound of a large truck rumbling down the street.
Hearing aids may be recommended and assistive listening devices can help you to hear in certain situations.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG
There are a number of conditions and problems that can lead to hearing loss. Here are some of the more common ones and how to manage them.
This is caused by excess fluid in the inner ear which disturbs the ear’s balance and hearing mechanisms. It produces symptoms such as:
■ Vertigo (a form of dizziness)
■ Tinnitus or ringing in the ears
■ Fluctuating hearing loss
■ A feeling of pressure In the early stages, hearing returns to normal following an episode, but as the disease progresses permanent hearing loss occurs. Treatment There’s no known cure but it can be managed to some degree through lifestyle changes and in some cases surgery. Consult your doctor before starting any treatment. Non-surgical options include:
■ Medication to control vertigo, nausea and vomiting, and reduce anxiety and fluid retention.
■ Lifestyle changes including stress management, dietary changes and quitting smoking.
■ Pressure pulse devices – to help relieve the build-up of pressure and reduce vertigo for people whose symptoms don’t respond to medical therapy.
You can manage symptoms and help reduce the frequency and severity by:
■ Recognising the warning signs of an attack – and sitting or lying down when you feel dizzy.
■ Resting during and after attacks, before returning to regular activities.
■ Avoiding triggers that make your symptoms worse, including sudden movement, bright lights and watching TV.
■ Using a hearing aid if you experience hearing loss.
■ Eating regular meals – consistent intake of food and drink can help regulate body fluids.
■ Reducing your sodium (salt) intake – eating too much salt may increase fluid in your inner ear and worsen symptoms.
■ Avoiding caffeine and alcohol – excessive amounts of caffeine (in tea, coffee, chocolate and cola drinks) or alcohol can constrict blood vessels and worsen symptoms.
The ringing noise people experience in their ears after going to a concert or listening to loud music can be described as tinnitus. In some cases it’s temporary, but for some people the ringing noise is constant and interferes with their ability to concentrate or hear. When tinnitus becomes problematic, it can lead to feelings of fear and anxiety. Tinnitus can be caused by several factors, such as age-related hearing loss, exposure to loud noise or earwax blockage. Some medications, including antidepressants and medications for arthritis, rheumatic diseases and some antibiotics, can cause or worsen tinnitus, so tell your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms.
Dealing with tinnitus
The first step is to identify the cause and, if necessary, take a hearing test. Given the many options available to tinnitus sufferers, no-one should be told that nothing can be done. There’s a range of devices that can help.
Otitis externa, also known as swimmer’s ear, is an infection of the ear canal and is common in people who spend a lot of time in the water. Too much moisture in the ear can irritate and break down the skin in the canal, allowing bacteria or fungi to penetrate.
But you don’t have to swim to get the swimmer’s ear. Anything that causes a break in the skin of the ear canal can lead to an infection.
Dry skin or eczema, scratching the ear canal by overzealous cleaning, or poking things into your ears can all increase the risk of developing swimmer’s ear. Also a middle ear infection can sometimes trigger an infection or inflammation in the ear canal.
Symptoms The primary symptom is pain. There may be some discharge and hearing may be temporarily affected by pus or inflammation.
Treatment See your doctor if you suspect you have swimmer’s ear. Treatment options depend on the severity of the problem. Your doctor may prescribe ear drops to fight the infection and pain relievers can be used to manage pain.
You’ll also need to keep your ear canal dry by using earplugs or a shower cap while bathing.
Exposing your ears to loud noise often could lead to you having to use a hearing aid in 10 to 15 years