Recently, my grandmother’s hearing began to deteriorate very rapidly. Her hearing had been decreasing gradually over the years, but suddenly over the course of six months or so she went from moderately hard of hearing to almost completely deaf. Combined with her increasing forgetfulness, her inability to hear was starting to cause some serious problems. She accidentally left the car running in the garage because she couldn’t hear the engine running, and she couldn’t hear the fire alarm when she left a pot burning on the stove.
It was interfering in her life in other ways as well. My grandmother is a very social person, and suddenly she couldn’t talk to people over the phone or enjoy going out to movies or the theatre. She could half hear/half lip read during one-on-one conversations, if the other person spoke very loudly and clearly, but as soon as multiple voices began overlapping, or if she couldn’t see you, she couldn’t converse at all.
Since my grandmother is ninety-two and her hearing had been deteriorating for some time, it did not strike her doctors as very odd that she was now nearly deaf. They advised her to buy more expensive hearing aids, and to continue adjusting the tone and volume. Nothing seemed to help much.
Finally, about two months ago, one of her doctors suggested that they have her ears cleaned out. They discovered that one of her ears had become completely blocked, while the other was very close. Half an hour later, she could hear again. Not perfectly, of course, but well enough to talk on the phone, participate in dinner conversations, and listen to her favorite radio programs. Meanwhile, the family doesn’t have to worry that she might burn the house down around her while the alarm rings out unheard.
It was a lesson to us about how the simplest solution can sometimes be the hardest one to identify. It was also a lesson about how basic, natural ways to maintain health and sanitation can have a tremendous effect. Some damage to hearing overtime seems almost inevitable in this age of pervasive noise pollution. However, there are some ways to minimize the damage to your hearing and help your ears to stay healthy as you age. Here is a look at some of the keys to maintaining your ear health naturally.
Basic Tenets Of Ear Health
In order to maintain healthy ears for your lifetime, there are some basic ways in which you need to protect them. Ears need to be protected from trauma, infections, and disorders, as well as general hearing attrition. Most of the methods for protecting your ears are just plain common sense, but there are also some misconceptions about ear maintenance that can lead to people doing unintentional damage.
Physical trauma, foreign objects, bacteria, fungi, and blockages can all affect ear health and function. The ears are very sensitive instruments, and their natural defenses are not always sufficient to protect them against harm without a little help.
Outer and middle ear infections are relatively common problems and can lead to pain and temporary hearing loss. Persistent infections also have the potential to lead to long-term problems by causing permanent damage to parts of your ear.
Outer ear infections are common in people who spend a lot of time in the water; the infection has even been nicknamed swimmer’s ear. However, the infection can also occur when the ear becomes scratched, loses some of its natural defenses like oil and wax, or otherwise becomes exposed to bacteria. Frequent submersion in water – particularly dirty water – creates both exposure and a loss of protection. Bacteria love to grow in warm, damp areas (as when water pools in your ear cavity), and the water can also wash your ear clean of its protection.
Outer ear infections can be avoided by shaking the water out of your ear after swimming or showering, or by wearing a cap to keep water out of your ears in the first place. It is also a good idea to avoid submerging yourself in dirty water where bacteria are almost certainly present. It is also wise to allow your ears to self-clean unless the build-up of earwax begins to affect your hearing. Typically, the natural movement of talking and swallowing during the day moves earwax toward the outer ear, where it can be cleaned with a cloth. Using a long object – even a cotton-tipped swab – to clean deeper into your ear can cause scratches or eliminate the wax that your ear needs to keep out dust and other debris.
Middle ear infections can affect anyone, but they are most common in children. Middle ear infections are caused when fluid gets past the eardrum and Eustachian tube and allows bacteria to grown in the middle ear air pocket.
Middle ear infections often happen when colds or allergies cause the Eustachian tubes to swell, and stifled sneezes or aggressive nose blowing pushes fluid into the middle ear. The risk is increased when individuals, especially children, are exposed to people with ear infections. Smoking can be a risk factor as well, since it causes irritation in the ear lining and Eustachian tubes.
Although many of the sensitive elements of your ears are located inside your head, your ears are still at risk from trauma. Your eardrum is a thin and sensitive membrane, and eardrum rupture is a common cause of sudden and comprehensive hearing loss.
Rupture can occur following a direct blow to the ear from someone’s cupped hand or palm, or from an awkward impact with the water during an attempted dive. Sudden loud noises such as explosions may also produce sufficiently severe vibrations to cause the eardrum to suddenly rupture; this kind of damage is known as acoustical trauma. Finally, foreign objects are a very common cause of eardrum rupture. As a result, it may be wise to consult an ear specialist or other doctor if you need to have your ears cleaned out, and you should be careful to have any foreign debris removed right away so that it cannot damage the eardrum by pressing against it.
Although ear drum rupture leads to instantaneous damage and hearing loss, sustained loud noises can also lead to hearing loss over time by damaging the conductive hairs that line your inner ears. Frequent exposure to very loud music or other noises such as construction sounds (jackhammers, saws, electric drill guns, etc.) without ear protection is likely to lead to a loss of hearing over time. If it is not possible for you to avoid this kind of exposure, it is advisable to wear earplugs.
In general, a noise level of ninety decibels or above is a level at which long-term hearing damage is possible after repeat exposure. To give you an idea of how loud ninety decibels really is, here is a handy guide to the decibel levels of various familiar sounds, courtesy of How Stuff Works:
- Jet engine (at 100 feet): 130 decibels
- Jackhammer: 120 decibels
- Rock concert: 100 decibels
- Truck (at 16 feet): 90 decibels
- Vacuum cleaner: 75 decibels
- Noisy restaurant: 70 decibels
- Normal conversation: 60 decibels
- Interior of typical urban home: 50 decibels
- Suburban street without traffic: 40 decibels
- Whisper: 30 decibels
- Rustle of leaves: 10 decibels
Other Factors In Ear Health
Several basic guidelines that can improve your overall health are also good for maintaining long-term ear health. Regular exercise will help you to maintain great circulation, which in turn can help to prevent tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. Limiting your salt intake and keeping your blood pressure down will also help with circulation and limiting stress on the relatively fragile components of your ears. Getting enough rest is also important and is generally the only long-term solution for rare inner-ear problems such as labyrinthitis, which can cause vertigo and dizziness.
Take good care of your ears, and they will help you stay safe and social for years to come.
©2012 Off the Grid News