Ask A Doc Blog

How to care for your ears

Your ears are very important organs. They do an amazing job of helping you hear various sounds, ranging from a murmur to a loud bang, and also they help you maintain your balance. Unlike most parts of the body which need constant care such as brushing of teeth, our ears usually do not demand much from us. They just need to be washed on a regular basis with a wash cloth. Ears are delicate and so they need to protected and cared for. Ears usually produce a substance known as earwax. Though it may not appear pleasant to the eyes, it plays an important role .It acts as a self-cleaning agent that forms in the external 1/3 of the ear canal (tube like passage that leads to the ear drum). It is a water-soluble mixture that contains dead skin, plus hair, as well as other secretions. Earwax helps trap dust and other dirt particles hence preventing them from getting to the ear drum (a thin membrane situated at the end of the ear canal). In addition, earwax has other various properties which include lubricating, antibacterial, and protective properties. Lack of earwax can cause dry and itchy ears. Generally, ear canals are self-cleaning and need not to be cleaned. This happens through a slow and systematic movement of skin cells and earwax from the ear drum all the way to the opening of the ear. The act of chewing and movement of jaw aids the continuous transportation of old earwax to the opening of the ear, where it normally dries, and eventually falls out. Most people misguidedly have a belief that earwax needs to be regularly removed as a way of maintaining personal hygiene. However, this is not the case. Actually, trying to get rid of earwax using devices such as cotton-tipped swabs or other instruments may cause trauma or damage to the ear. Using such objects may push the earwax deeper, and they may get stuck along the ear canal, making the blockage worse and may even rupture the ear drum. In case you have a wax build-up that obstructs your hearing, it is good to have a doctor remove it. If you need to clean the ears, gently use a washcloth to clean the ear opening. Ears should be cleaned only when there is sufficient build-up of earwax. If there is an increased accumulation of earwax to an extent that the ear canal becomes blocked and affects hearing, a doctor may recommend ear drops to soften the wax, wash the wax out, or he may vacuum it out. Tips on protecting your ears • Visit an ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat) specialist regularly to have your ears checked. An audiologist should check your hearing if there are any questions regarding your ability to hear normally. • If you have upper respiratory infections, have them treated properly in order to lower your risk of ear infections. • Dry your ears well after taking a bath or shower. • Do not swim in unclean water as it can cause ear infections. • Avoid exposing your ears to too much noise and wear earplugs when necessary. • When doing sporting activities like bicycling, wear a helmet to keep the ears from injury. • If you are using a prescribed medication that causes abnormal symptoms like tinnitus, see a doctor immediately to have the medicine in question changed. • Consult a doctor if you see anything unusual on the outer part of the ear such as scaly areas or bumps. Also, in case of an ear injury, ear pain, or change in your hearing, see a doctor right away. Some indications of hearing loss may include need for louder radio or television volumes than normal, straining to hear conversations, frequently requesting people to repeat their conversation, and hearing noise in the ears or head (tinnitus), which is not from an outside source. By Rebecca Muthoni