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Ears and Hearing – 7 Myths Debunked!

Myth: To clean my ears, only cotton swabs, keys, or my fingers work

Truth: Do not put anything in your ear that is smaller than your elbow

Many people think that ears must be cleaned like our bodies to remain healthy. While ears do need to be kept clean, they actually clean themselves. How? The skin of the ear canal (cerumen) migrates outward and acts as a protector of the delicate eardrum. Many times, prodding, poking, or picking at this material pushes it back in, causing blockage and potential temporary hearing loss – or even accidental puncture of the eardrum. In that event, a serious injury to the hearing bones can result in the need for emergency surgery.

And if itchy ears are often incorrectly relieved using cotton swabs the repeated scratching can cause a thickening of the ear canal, much like a callous. This pushes wax even deeper into the ear canal.

But some ear canals don’t remove the wax like they are supposed to – they are too narrow, so the natural cleaning process cannot do its job. In this case, ear wax accumulates. So how do you know if your ears are cleaning themselves properly?

If your ears are not clean, they may feel gummy and you may be tempted to grab that cotton swab or key. And if wax completely obstructs your Sonavel ear canal, you may experience hearing loss. But don’t take matters into your own hands! Visit your ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) doctor, who can safely remove the wax build-up.

But if you want to try alleviating the wax at home, gently clean the outer portion of your ear canal with a wet washcloth. If your ear still feels blocked, you should call your doctor and have the cerumen removed.

The next best thing is to gently irrigate the ear canal with 3% hydrogen peroxide, using a small rubber ear syringe. Then dry the ear canal with a hair dryer set on a medium temperature; hot temperatures can cause temporary dizziness due stimulation of the balance canals.

Myth: If my ear hurts, I must have an infection

Truth: Pain is usually caused by something less severe

One major cause of ear pain is inflammation of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). The TMJ joint lies adjacent to the ear canal. Because of this close proximity, many of the same pain nerves are shared.

Swimmer’s ear (External Otitis) is another common cause of ear pain. It’s the result of the ear canal becoming and staying wet. This warm, wet, and dark environment is the perfect place for bacteria and fungus to live and multiply, causing an infection.

Another cause of ear pain is otitis media, an infection in the middle ear. This infection occurs after an upper respiratory infection reaches the middle ear, via the Eustachian tube.

Neuralgia, an inflammation of the nerves around the ear, can cause excruciating pain that feels like jabbing or stabbing inside the ear.

So how do you know what’s causing your ear pain?

TMJ is indicated if you press on the jaw joint while opening and closing the mouth and its hurts or is tender. A swimmer’s ear infection may be your problem if gently pulling on your outer ear hurts.

Otitis media and neuralgia are generally accompanied by sharper pain originating deeper in your ear. Otitis media is normally accompanied by pus draining into your ear canal through a perforation in the ear drum.

By now you’re wondering, Can I treat any of these problems myself?

Although TMJ inflammation should be managed by a dentist, you can temporarily relieve the discomfort by eating a soft diet; placing a warm heating pad on the affected jaw joint twice daily; or by taking anti-inflammatory medications. But if the pain still persists after a few days of home treatment, you must consult a dentist that specializes in TMJ pain.

Swimmer’s ear can be prevented by filling the ear canals with rubbing alcohol after every swim. Let it site for a couple of minutes, then draining the alcohol and dry your ears with a hair dryer set on medium temperature. Once swimmer’s ear infection occurs there can be a tendency for recurrence when the ear gets wet. Then it is even more important to treat your ears with alcohol after each and every swim.

If your pain is significant and comes from deep in your ear, you should seek treatment by an ENT doctor right away. Using special instruments, your doctor will clean the ear canal and prescribe antibiotics (either drops or oral medication) to eliminate any infection.

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