Looking after your ears

To be able to hear is a gift.  Our ears are not just important for hearing and listening.  It also plays an important role in maintaining our balance, with regards to the gravitational pull of the earth.  Whether you are standing on one leg or coming up from a lying down position, the middle ear helps to maintain balance and stability (also known as dynamic equilibrium). 

Inside the inner ear there are 3 small loops above the cochlea, called semi-circular canals.  These canals, as well as the cochlea, are filled with thousands of microscopic hairs and liquid.  When you turn / move your head, the liquid in these canals move as well. 

This in turn, moves the tiny hairs and they send a nerve message to your brain about the position of your head.  In less than a second, your brain sends messages to the right muscles so that you maintain your balance!

There are a number of diseases that can affect one’s balance, for example vertigo, tinnitus, Meniere’s disease, perilymph fistula, and so on.  More on this in a later article.

Coming back to looking after our ears. During the spring- and autumn months, allergies like hay fever can spike due to the increase in pollens, as well as dust and animal dander.  Allergies not only affect your nose, eyes, throat and chest, but also your ears. 

The most common symptoms are earaches, fullness, difficulty hearing and itching.  There can also be a temporary loss of hearing due to the built-up of mucus in the middle ear (conductive hearing loss).  Your nose and ears are linked, internally, and if your sinus canals are clogged, then there is a good chance your ears will be too!

So, what to do?  As we all know there are many over-the-counter medicines and sprays that one can use.  Seeking medical advice is always advised when the symptoms become worse.  Protecting our ears; especially when the temperatures dip below 15°C (59°F), is important.  Our ears don’t have any protective fatty tissue; only a thin layer of skin that protects the nerves in the ear canal.  Cooler weather and/or wind may cause discomfort and even pain, in your ear canal.  Covering our ears with ear mittens or a beanie, is a very good way to protect our ears (especially when it is cold and/or windy outside).

For those people using hearing aids, remember to have a spare battery at hand, as the cooler weather can also affect your hearing aids.

Apart from the weather, ears are very sensitive to loud sounds, noise from a power drill, for example, loud music, and so forth.  There are many documents written that prove that high decibel levels can deafen you, especially if you are / were exposed to high, loud levels.  The danger-levels start at 85dB (decibels) and include things like rock concerts, subway trains, electric tools, and so forth.  Babies and young children should not be exposed or at least not for a long period, to loud sounds.  Covering our ears with earmuffs or custom-made earplugs, will buffer most of it, so that we can still enjoy the music or carry on with our work, but without damaging our ears.  Talking on a telephone can also deafen the ear, especially if the other person is talking very loudly!  Try to swop the phone around, instead of listening on the one side only.  Or better yet, put the phone on speaker-mode!

Many people like to listen with earphones – doctors say the best earphones are the ones that cover the whole ear, and not the ones that go inside, as these earphones sit too close to the middle ear and, used long-term and/or too loud, can damage the ear permanently.

Ever heard about getting rid of ear wax using a wax candle?  While lying on your side, a wax stick, with a paper plate over the ear (very important because it catches the dripping wax), is gently placed into the ear and lit. While it burns, the heat “collects” all the wax inside your ear and, when it has finished burning, the wax comes out in a little ball.  Do not try this at home if you’ve never used it before – rather seek professional help.  Many doctors don’t believe that using an ear bud is a good thing…reason?  If it goes in too far it can damage the ear and a little bit of wax protects the ear from dust and other objects.

A few other good tips are to make sure you keep your stress levels down, go for check-ups, keep the ears dry, give your ears time to recover if it was exposed to noise (research indicates at least 16 hours) and to get up and move!  Did you know that exercises like running, walking, cycling, and any other form of cardio, not only gets your heartrate up, but also gets your blood pumping throughout the whole body; including to your ears.  This will help the internal structure of your ears, as with the internal organs, to stay healthy and function at their optimal level.

So, when we are taking care of our bodies, we should never forget that we only have one pair of ears…just like we only have one pair of eyes! 

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