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Ear Care: How to Avoid Hearing Loss

Ear Care: How to Avoid Hearing Loss

Hearing damage is something we often don't think about and associate only with aging. Once hearing damage occurs, however, it often can't be fully restored. Whether it's excessive noise, infections, or injury, there are plenty of dangers to your ears and hearing, but luckily most of them can be easily avoided with the right precautions.

Ear Checkup

General Care and Cleaning

Your ears are self-cleaning. That doesn't mean they never need cleaning, but the deep dive many people do with cotton swabs is unnecessary and can even cause some damage.

Some tips on general care and cleaning:

  • Clean your ears carefully. Use a tissue or washcloth to wipe your outer ear.
  • Do not use sharp, pointed objects to clean your ears.
  • Generally avoid using small objects like cotton swabs to clean your inner ear; these can injure the ear canal or eardrum. Doctors have access to much safer ear cleaning products.
  • Earwax is secreted as a way for ears to self-clean. If there's so much it's creating a blockage, speak to your doctor, or use an over-the-counter product to reduce it safely. Irrigation is much safer than deep swabbing.
  • Clean those piercings! Use rubbing alcohol on earlobes, as well as earrings and other ear jewelry.
  • Clean hearing aids properly, as well.
  • Use ear protection while swimming to prevent water trapped in your ears.
  • Research your medications: some medications are ototoxic (causing damage to the ears), like malaria medications or aspirin. Speak to your doctor if hearing loss occurs, or if you'll be on them for a significant period.
  • Wear helmets with ear protection when participating in contact sports or operating recreational vehicles.

The most important part of general ear care, though, is making sure to incorporate it into your medical visits. Have your primary care physician check your ears during regular checkups. Consult a medical professional if you injure your ears, have ear pain, or notice unusual bumps or scaly areas on your ears, as well as any change in hearing.

Ear Swabbing

Ear Infections

Children are particularly susceptible to ear infections, as their immune systems are still developing. Those under 3 also have smaller Eustachian tubes (which link the nasopharynx, part of the throat, to the middle ear), blockages in which make it easier to develop infections and earaches.

Ear infections tend to occur in the fall and winter, because upper respiratory infections like the common cold or flu can easily bring them on. Allergies can too. Here are some tips on protecting your child from ear infections:

  • Breastfeeding: If not available, make sure they drink from a bottle in an upright position rather than lying down.
  • Clean, fresh air: cigarette smoke and air pollution can spur infections.
  • Immunizations: many viral diseases can also cause hearing loss. Get those vaccinations on schedule!
  • Regular washing.
  • Throwing away pacifiers: after 12 months, pacifier use can increase the chances of infections.


The most obvious danger to ears is excessive noise levels. Long or repeated exposure to sounds of 85 decibels or louder is enough to cause hearing loss over time. Examples of loudness at or above this level include:

  • Heavy city traffic: 85 decibels.
  • Motorcycles: 95 decibels.
  • Diesel truck, jackhammer, gas lawn mower: 100 decibels.
  • Maximum volume on a stereo or phone speaker: around 105 decibels.
  • Concert with amplification: around 110 decibels.
  • Sirens: 120 decibels.

Hearing protection is vital, especially if you have a commute in a congested area, drive a loud vehicle like motorcycles or snowmobiles, go to loud events like concerts or sporting events, or work in an industrial or construction occupation. Earbuds from your phone don't offer hearing protection! You need proper earplugs. If you're engaged in long work with loud machinery, use firearms for recreation, or have a noisy work environment, you should opt for stronger hearing protection. Consider noise reduction safety earmuffs.

Ear Care

Hearing Loss

It's important to know the warning signs of hearing loss, especially as you age or if you're in a career where loud noise levels are common. You may not notice some of these signs, as many of them are normal behavior in loud or distracting atmospheres. But if you notice yourself exhibiting these symptoms frequently or in multiples, consult a medical professional.

Some of the signs:

  • Difficulty hearing conversations, especially when background noise is present.
  • Asking others to repeat what they have said.
  • Nodding, agreeing, or reacting to parts of conversations you haven't heard.
  • Withdrawing from or avoiding conversations because they're difficult to hear.
  • Straining to hear or follow conversations, or misunderstanding what others say.
  • Difficulty hearing over the phone.
  • Needing television or music volume higher than what's comfortable for others in the room.
  • Tinnitus: noise inside your head or not caused by an external source.
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