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Otology &
Hearing

Hearing loss occurs in all age groups but commonly occurs naturally with the aging process or as a result of injury or infection. Over the years, technology has also contributed to the loss of hearing with the abundance of loud sources of noise such as headphones and ear buds. Hearing loss has affected over 40 million Americans and can have a direct impact on your life and relationships.

How Bad Is My Hearing Loss?

In order to better organize the degree of hearing loss doctors normally classify hearing loss by the following 4 degrees:

Mild hearing loss: One-on-one conversations are fine, but it’s hard to catch every word when there’s background noise.

Moderate hearing loss: You often need to ask people to repeat themselves during conversations in person and on the phone.

Severe hearing loss: Following a conversation is almost impossible unless you have a hearing aid.

Profound hearing loss: You can’t hear when other people speaking, unless they are extremely loud. You can’t understand what they’re saying without a hearing aid or cochlear implant.

What Causes
Hearing Loss?

The cause of hearing loss varies greatly depending on age and other physical factors such as genetics.  The most common cause of hearing loss is age but other factors such as medication, exposure to loud noises, infection and genetics all play a role.  The ear while durable can also be extremely sensitive as we age or are exposed to physical stimulants that can have a negative impact on our hearing.  Here are some of the most common causes of hearing loss:

  1. Age – Age related hearing loss for people over the age of 60 is the leading cause of tinnitus.
  2. Ear Damage – Damage to the inner canal or ear drum can severely affect hearing.
  3. Earwax Buildup – Severe ear wax blockage can irritate the eardrum causing hearing loss, resulting in tinnitus.
  4. Illness or infection – Viruses can attack the inner ear and its nerve connections to the brain.

What is Otology?

Otology is a branch of medicine which studies normal and pathological anatomy and physiology of the ear (hearing and vestibular sensory systems and related structures and functions) as well as their diseases, diagnosis and treatment.

Dizziness can occur due to either poor circulation, vertigo, injury, infection, allergies, or neurological disease. When suffering from dizziness, your doctor will perform tests to verify what is the exact cause of dizziness.  Once the cause is determined, the appropriate treatment will be provided. While dizziness symptoms vary a doctor visit is recommended if you experience any of the following: high fever, severe headache, vomiting, chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, inability to move an arm or leg or change in vision or speech.

WHAT CAUSES DIZZINESS?

Circulation: Poor blood flow to the brain can cause you to feel lightheaded, a common side affect of dizziness. Poor circulation can be caused by the hardening of arteries.  Patients who suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol often suffer from dizziness spells.

Vertigo: Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), labyrinthitis, and Ménière’s syndrome, and some forms of migraine are all causes of vertigo.

Injury:  A serious head injury such as a skull fracture that damages the inner ear produces vertigo with nausea and hearing loss.  This type of dizziness will last a few weeks and will slowly improve.

Infection: Viruses can attack the inner ear and its nerve connections to the brain. This can result in severe vertigo, but hearing is usually spared.

WHY DOES THE BODY PRODUCE EARWAX?

When produced in normal amounts, earwax is a healthy coating that acts as a temporary water repellent. Most of the times, the body handles the releasing of excess earwax through the migration of earwax from the eardrum to the ear opening.  Earwax is formed in the outer part of the canal and is often pushed into the eardrum causing blockage.

HOW SHOULD I CLEAN MY EARS?

Under ideal circumstances, the ear canals should never have to be cleaned. However, that isn’t always the case. To clean the ears, wash the external ear with a cloth, but do not insert anything into the ear canal.

Most cases of ear wax blockage respond to home treatments used to soften wax. Patients can try placing a few drops of mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin, or commercial drops, such as Debrox® or Murine® Ear Drops in the ear. These remedies are not as strong as the prescription wax softeners but are effective for many patients. Rarely, people have allergic reactions to commercial preparations.

Detergent drops such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide may also aid in the removal of wax. Rinsing the ear canal with hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) results in oxygen bubbling off and water being left behind—wet, warm ear canals make good incubators for growth of bacteria. Flushing the ear canal with rubbing alcohol displaces the water and dries the canal skin. If alcohol causes severe pain, it suggests the presence of an eardrum perforation.

WHY SHOULDN’T COTTON SWABS BE USED TO CLEAN EARWAX?

Wax blockage is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. This is often caused by attempts to clean the ear with cotton swabs. Most cleaning attempts merely push the wax deeper into the ear canal, causing a blockage.

The outer ear is the funnel-like part of the ear that can be seen on the side of the head, plus the ear canal (the hole which leads down to the eardrum). The ear canal is shaped somewhat like an hourglass—narrowing part way down. The skin of the outer part of the canal has special glands that produce earwax. This wax is supposed to trap dust and dirt particles to keep them from reaching the eardrum. Usually the wax accumulates a bit, dries out, and then comes tumbling out of the ear, carrying dirt and dust with it. Or it may slowly migrate to the outside where it can be wiped off.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF WAX BUILDUP?

  • Partial hearing loss, may be progressive
  • Tinnitus, noises in the ear
  • Earache
  • Fullness in the ear or a sensation the ear is plugged

Tinnitus is a condition that affects 1 in 5 people.  People affected with Tinnitus hear a persistent noise or ringing in the ears.  While not normally a sign of something serious, Tinnitus can be quite bothersome. Often tinnitus symptoms are of an underlying condition such as age-related hearing loss, ear injury or a circulatory system disorder.

WHAT CAUSES TINNITUS?

The most common causes of Tinnitus are the following:

Natural hearing loss. Age related hearing loss for people over the age of 60 is the leading cause of tinnitus.

Loud Noises. Exposure to loud noises can cause permanent damage to your ears causing tinnitus.

Ear wax Blockage. Severe ear wax blockage can irritate the eardrum causing hearing loss, resulting in tinnitus.

Ear Bone Problems. Stiffening of the bones located in the middle ear can lead to tinnitus.

HOW IS TINNITUS TREATED?

To diagnose the underlying cause of tinnitus your doctor will first perform a hearing exam. Once the hearing exam is complete, based on the results your doctor may request an imaging test, such as a CT Scan or an MRI to further assist in your diagnosis.

Treatment of tinnitus is based on the underlying causes. Hearing aids, white noise machines and other devices can mask your tinnitus and help you hear more clearly.

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