The ear is a delicate sensory mechanism that supplies important information about the external environment to our brain. Ears need to be cared for and protected from harm.
Your ear produces wax (called cerumen) to protect itself. Wax and tiny hairs inside the ear canal prevent small objects getting down inside the ear.
The ear has a clever mechanism for cleaning itself. There is a natural movement of old skin, wax and dirt away from the eardrum toward the outer end of the ear canal. This means that all you need to do to clean your ears is to wipe around the outside of the ear with a damp cloth regularly.
If a build-up of wax blocks the ear canal, special ear drops available from a chemist may soften the wax. Sometimes a visit to your doctor may be necessary in order to physically remove the blockage.
The old saying that you should never put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow is true! That’s because placing anything into the ear has the potential to cause damage.
However, if something does somehow become lodged in the ear, seek expert advice about having it removed. You, a parent or well meaning friends should never attempt to remove it.
So the rule is don’t poke around in your ear yourself. If there’s a problem, get professional advice.
Noise is vibration that causes a response in the human ear. Scientifically speaking, noise and sound are the same thing. One person’s noise can be another person’s symphony.
Excessive exposure to loud noise can damage the delicate mechanism of the ear. In a short time you can develop a temporary loss of hearing that can become permanent over an extended period of noise exposure. You could be damaging your hearing if it’s so noisy that you need to shout to talk to someone an arm’s length away, or if your hearing seems dull or your ears are ringing after leaving a noisy situation, such as a concert.
The best action to take if you are exposed to loud noise is to either remove the noise or remove yourself from the noise. The use of earplugs or ear muffs is not the best solution, although they can reduce the risk of suffering a hearing loss. If you use hearing protectors, be sure to follow all instructions carefully to ensure best protection.
Sources of loud noise can be:
If you think a noise is too loud, it probably is!
If you have grommets (ventilation tubes), a perforated eardrum or an ear infection you will need to keep water out of your ear(s) when swimming or bathing. The doctor will advise you about what precautions you should take. If in any doubt, discuss the matter with your doctor.
Your hearing can also be damaged by ototoxic drugs and some chemicals.
Some medications have the potential to harm hearing if used over an extended period or in high doses. Tell your doctor immediately if, on taking prescribed drugs, your ears start to ring.
If you use chemicals at work or for a hobby at home, take a few minutes to study the Material Safety Data Sheet that should be supplied with the chemical. Some chemicals interact with noise to make the overall effect worse.
Ear infection is very common in young children and can cause considerable pain.
The outer ear can easily pick up infection while swimming, particularly in unclean water, while the middle ear can become infected as a result of upper respiratory tract infections or colds or flu. Middle ear infection can also cause temporary hearing loss.
If there is any sign of infection in or around the ear, do not try and treat it yourself. See your doctor.
There are many diseases that can result in a hearing loss such as measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), meningitis and sometimes even a bad case of the flu.
If rubella is contracted during the first 3 months of pregnancy, the unborn baby has a 90 per cent chance of having a significant hearing loss (and many other complications). This is why rubella immunisation is very important.
Some physical injuries have the potential to cause a hearing loss, such as a blow to the head while playing football, damage to the neck in a car accident, or damage to the eardrum while scuba diving.
If you are concerned about your hearing, discuss your concerns with your family doctor, or seek the advice of a hearing professional such as an audiologist who can assess your hearing and offer you advice.
Last Reviewed: 17 August 2005