While they might seem like a low-maintenance part of the body, your ears need regular care and protection.
Cleaning is important, but so is safety from noise and injury, regular check-ups and knowing the signs of hearing loss. Use this checklist to periodically check in with your ears.
Cleaning your ears
Clean your ears with extra care. Wipe the outer ear with a washcloth or antibacterial wipe and heed your mom’s advice: Never put anything into your ear that’s smaller than your elbow, as objects can injure the ear canal or eardrum.
Earwax is actually valuable, as it’s the ear’s mechanism for self-cleaning. If you have a build-up of wax you suspect is blocking your hearing, see your doctor to have it removed.
If you experience itching or pain in your ears, don’t use topical treatments on your own. Consult with your primary care physician to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.
Noise and safety
At home or work, wear hearing protection during exposure to loud noise. This includes mowing the lawn, leaf blowing or using power tools. When using personal sound systems, the volume should be at a comfortable level. If someone else can hear what you are listening to, the volume is too high.
If you scuba dive, learn and practice proper underwater techniques to avoid potentially damaging changes in the pressure inside your ears.
When flying in an airplane, swallow and yawn frequently when the plane is ascending and descending to equalize pressure in your ears.
If you have an upper respiratory problem such as a cold or sinus infection, take a decongestant a few hours before descending, or use a decongestant spray just prior to landing.
Infections and concerns
Reduce the risk of ear infections by treating upper respiratory (ears, nose and throat) infections promptly and completely.
Some illnesses and medications can affect your hearing. If you experience sudden hearing loss or have constant sound in your ears or head, see a physician as soon as possible.
Drainage from the ear is not normal and typically suggests infection. See a physician as soon as possible.
While they are more common in children than adults, everyone is susceptible to ear infections. However, while children’s ear infections are often minor and pass quickly, adult ear infections can be a sign of a more serious health problem.
There are three main types of ear infections, and they correspond to the three main parts of the ear: inner, middle and outer.
>> Inner ear infection. It actually might be a case of inflammation and not an actual infection. In addition to ear pain, symptoms often include dizziness, nausea or vomiting, and it can be a sign of a more serious condition, such as meningitis.
>> Middle ear infection. It is caused by fluid trapped behind the eardrum, causing the eardrum to bulge. In addition to ear pain, you might have the feeling of fullness in your ear as well as some fluid drainage. Symptoms can be accompanied by a fever and trouble hearing while the infection is active.
>> Outer ear infection. It typically is the result of water remaining in the ear after swimming or bathing, where the moisture becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. Symptoms often start with an itchy rash, and the ear might become painful, red or swollen.
If your only symptom is an earache, you might want to wait a day or two before seeing a doctor, as ear infections can sometimes resolve on their own. If the pain persists or you are also running a fever, see your doctor as soon as you can.
If fluid is draining from your ear or you’re having trouble hearing, you also should seek medical attention.
Dr. Julianne Parente-Heck is board certified in internal medicine and nephrology. She is associated with Marion Medical Group, an affiliate of Marion Physician Services, and is a member of the medical staff at Carolinas Hospital System-Marion. Parente-Heck is accepting new patients. To schedule an appointment, call 843-423-0760. For information on services provided at Marion Medical Group, visit MarionMedicalGroup.com.