There are times when you purposely plug your ears -- think fingers or earplugs -- and then there are, well, other times when your ears feel clogged for no good reason. Why is sound muffled when there doesn’t appear to be anything inside your ear canal? Here are four of the most common reasons why your ears might feel clogged.
Normally, earwax is the body’s way of protecting the ear. Its sticky consistency traps dirt and other pollutants, act as a lubricant, and because it naturally falls out of the ear canal on its own, serves as a natural self-cleaning agent. On occasion, however, it can become impacted and affect your ability to hear.
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, the following symptoms indicate earwax is causing a problem:
The only way to know for sure -- and to remove the earwax safely from the affected ear -- is to see a physician or your hearing healthcare professional. Please note that it is never appropriate to try and remove the earwax yourself using a cotton swab, baby oil, or hydrogen peroxide. Not only could you accidentally puncture your eardrum or push the earwax deeper into the canal and cause impaction, removing this natural protective lubricant can lead to the development of dry, itchy ears. It’s best to let a professional determine whether or not your ears need a more thorough cleaning beyond what you can safely do with a warm, soapy washcloth.
Fluid in the ear
Avid swimmers are likely too familiar with this painful condition; however, even non-swimmers can suffer from fluid in the ear, too. Fluid can develop in the ear for a couple of different reasons:
Ear infection -- children and adults who develop middle ear infections may experience a plugged ear sensation due to fluid build-up behind the eardrum. Although this condition usually clears on its own, it can be painful. It’s time to call a doctor if the pain is severe, you notice a fluid discharge or symptoms persist for more than a day. Children younger than six months should be seen immediately.
Swimming or bathing -- here’s another reason to appreciate earwax. It acts as a deterrent for water to enter the ear when you swim or bathe. Even so, there are times water can become trapped inside the Eustachian tubes from swimming, bathing or moist environments. If it does, try these simple techniques to encourage it to drain.
You may be familiar with stuffed nasal passages and facial tenderness brought about by sinus pressure, but did you know it can also cause temporary hearing loss? The sinus cavities, hollow spaces located in your bones near the nose and between the eyes, are also located beside the ear canal. When you experience an inflammation in your sinus cavities, it can cause your Eustachian tubes to swell. When that happens, the connection between the middle ear and throat is closed which puts pressure on the eardrum causing that clogged ear feeling -- or worse -- pain and hearing loss.
Fortunately, most hearing loss caused by sinus infection, pressure or sinusitis is temporary and hearing returns to normal once the sinus congestion clears. Even so, if you experience pain or sudden hearing loss due to sinus congestion, see your family doctor. They can determine the cause of your discomfort and prescribe medication to alleviate the pain and swelling.
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is one of the most common types of sensorineural hearing loss. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), as many as 40 million Americans have hearing loss in one or both ears which may have been caused by exposure to excessive noise over a long period of time or a one time exposure to an extremely loud noise, such as an explosion or blast.
If your ears feel clogged or you hear ringing in your ears (tinnitus) after an evening with friends at the club or an afternoon in a rowdy sports stadium, it’s likely due to excessive noise exposure. Although these symptoms typically clear within 48 hours, you can prevent permanent hearing loss by taking precautions the next time you know you’ll be in a noisy environment:
Before trouble starts...Although we’ve covered four of the most common reasons you ears may feel clogged, it’s always wise to seek the advice of a hearing healthcare professional whenever you are having trouble hearing. Unclogging your ears at home using home remedies or a cotton swab is never a good idea. Here’s a tip: find a clinic in your community and have your hearing evaluated before trouble starts. The baseline information the initial test provides will be a good benchmark for your medical team to use in an emergency situation and to monitor your hearing health.
Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
June 21, 2018
The Fourth of July is right around the corner, when families and friends gather to witness spectacular fireworks displays. Noise from fireworks can reach up to 155 decibels. To put this into perspective, this is louder than a jet plane taking off (150 decibels) or a jackhammer. The American Academy of Audiology cautions that exposure to fireworks can significantly impact hearing loss.
“The biggest risk is NOT the professional fireworks displays, but the backyard fireworks people use themselves to celebrate," explains Brian J. Fligor, AuD. "Never hold a firework, with the intention to throw it before it explodes. Even if you do throw it in time (to avoid injury to your hands and face), if it is anywhere close to you when it explodes, your hearing can be immediately, permanently damaged.”
Some signs of hearing loss may include:
• Ringing, buzzing or hissing noises in the ear after the fireworks noise goes off.
• Muffled hearing after the fireworks.
• Suddenly having to turn up the volume of the television, radio or stereo and having other family members complain that the volume is too loud.
• Difficulty understanding people speaking to you and asking people to repeat themselves.
• Difficulty with phone conversations and understanding the other person.
• Sudden inability to hear the door bell, the dog barking and other household sounds.
• People telling you that you speak too loudly.
• Ringing in the ears.
• Ear pain.
“Children are at particular risk for hearing loss from ‘backyard’ fireworks displays, because of their excitement and curiosity, wishing to be close to the activity,” warned Brian J. Fligor, AuD.
School-aged children with hearing loss will sometimes exhibit poor school performance because they can’t understand the teacher assignments or classroom interactions. If hearing loss has been present from a young age, they often don’t recognize the loss and can’t identify the problem.
The American Academy of Audiology recommends that anyone experiencing the above symptoms should make an appointment with a hearing provider!
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Rechargeable hearing aids are a hot item, but are they best for you?
There is a lot of talk about rechargeable hearing aids and many have called asking for them. Every brand now offers a rechargeable aid, but are they the best choice for you?
What are the pros and cons of rechargeables?
• Convenience - You don't have to fumble with tiny batteries. Simply put them in the charger before bed, and when you wake up, they are ready to go!
• Assurance - You'll have no worries about making sure to have batteries on hand.
• Longevity - New quick-charge battery technology now provides up to 24-hours of continuous use on single charge.
• Environmentally Friendly - Rechargeables produce less waste from toxic substances.
• Durability - There is no potential breakage from opening and closing a battery door.
• Cost - This is surprising to many! Rechargeables generally cost $100-$200 more per ear. Zinc rechargeable batteries need to be replaced once a year. Li-Ion rechargeables need to be replaced around every 3 years by the manufacturer.
• Reliability - Different brands vary widely in reliability. Our hearing specialists can recommend the most reliable rechargeables.
• Longevity - Don't expect to get two days of use on a single charge, especially if you are streaming calls from your smartphone. If you run out of juice mid-day, you will need your charger handy and then recharge them for at least 30 minutes.
• Size - Rechargeables tend to be a bit bigger than non-rechargeable aids.
Don't get us wrong! We love rechargeables for the convenience. They are a great option for many, but they are not for everyone. Give us a call at (651) 528-7868 to discuss your lifestyle and we can help you decide what is right for you!
Imagine being near the end of your life and not being able to connect with your loved ones or hear your doctor’s recommendations for your care. You would probably feel lonely, frightened and perhaps depressed. But the unfortunate reality is that thousands of hospice patients experiencing hearing loss are in this exact situation every day.
Complex challenges of hospice care
The care of those in hospice presents a multitude of challenges for patients as well as their caregivers and family members. Amid pressing concerns such as medical care, pain management and legal and financial concerns, families often become overwhelmed and hearing loss is often at the bottom of the list of priorities. Hearing loss in hospice patients can often be mistaken for dementia or confusion, so the inattention can leave a patient feeling helpless, marginalized and lonely.
It’s a substantial problem - according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 80 percent of Americans ages 85 and older have hearing loss to some degree. In addition, many cancer patients can lose hearing due to effects of chemotherapy or certain ototoxic pain medications. All in all, more than 24,000 out of every 100,000 patients in hospice have hearing loss.
Among many others, two important issues for end-of life care are pain management and social, cultural and religious needs and wants. These alone make communication the most essential element when it comes to hospice care. For example, a patient needs to have a complete understanding of the medical care being provided, including pain management and medications; not only for safety reasons but in order for him to feel a sense of control over his final stages of life. How are they feeling? What do they want? These questions, asked and understood, can go a long way toward improving the quality of care.
Being able to clearly hear and communicate wishes with caregivers and loved ones reduces the sense of loneliness and isolation that can often accompany a patient’s final days. It also gives a patient a sense of autonomy, which is important for emotional well-being. “Hospice care is based on [the patient’s] need and comfort,” said Deb Athans, a hospice social worker at Hospice of Cincinnati. “When you can’t communicate effectively, that is what is sacrificed.”
Keeping hospice patients connected
There are important steps to ensure that a hospice patient can continue to be a part of the conversation and to improve the quality of care. The first step, however, is establishing if there is a hearing loss in the first place. And for that, the family first needs to communicate with the staff in order to make the patient’s needs known. Once the presence of hearing loss is established, here are a few tips to help caregivers and family members help their loved ones:
Have those important last conversations
Hospice patients with hearing loss need not be lonely and isolated. From participating in decisions regarding their final days to allowing them to hear the voices of their family, attention to hearing care can enable those with hearing loss to be active participants in their own lives for as long as possible. More importantly, no longer will hearing loss cause things to be left unsaid or unspoken between family members and their loved ones. “It is so important to have those last conversations with family,” Athans said. And hopefully new movements toward understanding and working with hearing loss in hospice patients will lead to greater compassion in end-of-life care.
Contributed by Lisa Packer, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
January 4, 2018
They call it the generation gap, and since long before The Beatles debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show, each age group has looked at the world differently than the one before them.
Yet, when it comes to hearing loss, the generations are more alike than they might realize. Genetic reasons aside, each age group experiences hearing loss due to prolonged exposure to noise, the drugs they take, the lifestyle they choose to lead and the age of their auditory system. The reasons why these types of hearing loss occur, on the other hand, are often a result of world events and the environmental influences they produce.
The Greatest Generation: 1901-1945
They are our grandparents and great grandparents. They grew up in the Great Depression, then went on to fight in World War II. Tom Brokaw called them The Greatest Generation, and wrote a book by the same title, because they were frugal, moral and did things simply because it was the right thing to do.
Noise induced hearing loss
Because they either fought in WWII or were instrumental in keeping the home fires burning and the economy thriving while their soldiers were away, their noise-induced hearing loss was most likely impacted by the persistent exposure to loud noise they encountered on the battle front or at home in the factories.
Presbycusis is age-related hearing loss and occurs gradually and progressively, most typically in those 65 years of age and older. The youngest of this generation would be almost 73 years old today. Even if they led a very sheltered life during WWII and weren't subjected to battle field mortar or the loud clang of factory machinery, their hearing is probably impaired by advanced age.
"The Greatest" hearing aid technology
Although the first electronic hearing aid made its entrance in the 1870s after the invention of the telephone and microphone, it was this generation which saw the invention of a vacuum tube hearing aid which was light enough to carry. Naval engineer Earl Hanson developed the seven pound, portable trumpet and more portable than the first electronically amplified hearing aid, created in 1913 by Siemens.
Baby Boomers: 1946-1964
Whether it was a spontaneous reaction to world peace, or just something "in the water," English-speaking countries (US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) experienced a strange spike in birth rates just after WWII - hence the term "Baby Boomers." The term applies to approximately 76 million Americans born between 1945-64 who marked the beginning of dramatic social change.
The hippie subculture that arose during the 1960s was known for its drug use and psychedelic rock scene. Although true hippies were often eco-friendly and vegetarian, their psychedelic drug practices - which they believed "expanded their consciousness" - weren't very hearing health friendly. LSD, mescaline and PCP usage affects the circulatory system by elevating blood pressure, which can be damaging to hearing health over time.
Noise induced hearing loss
This is the generation that witnessed the birth of Rock and Roll. Baby Boomers weren't subjected to the same type of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) of the previous generation, but their loud music definitely destroyed some inner ear hair cells. Their parents would no doubt argue that it destroyed a few brain cells, too.
Viet Nam veterans would return home to experience a variety of physical and psychological disabilities such as tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, that often accompanies NIHL. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, tinnitus is the number one service-related disability for veterans receiving compensation at the end of 2012. While the condition currently has no cure, a new clinical trial is underway to study how vagus nerve stimulation (VNS)might trigger the brain's ability to reconfigure itself.
Boomer hearing aid technology
Along with the stream of social consciousness, hearing aid development was progressing, too. Transistor hearing aids were smaller, required less battery power and had less distortion than vacuum tube hearing aids. Although Boomers were too young to use transistor hearing aid technology when it was developed in 1948, we have this generation to thank for their diligence in perfecting it.
Baby Boomers grew up with Lee Majors as the Six-Million-Dollar Man and Lindsay Wagner as the Bionic Woman. As a result, today's Boomer is comfortable having knee and hip replacements, Lasik eye surgery, and wearing practically invisible digital hearing aids with Bluetooth technology that connects wirelessly to all of their favorite personal electronic devices. It seems this generation truly believed the "we can rebuild him" phrase they heard on their television every week.
Generation X: 1965-1983
This age group saw the emergence of MTV and mass media as well as the end of The Cold War. The internet came into prominence during this period of time -- as did video games. A further rise in the consumption of convenience foods was met with rising gas prices.
Health-related hearing loss
Obesity, diabetes and heart disease came to the forefront with increased prevalence in Gen X-ers. We began to understand how our overall health affects that of our hearing health and started making strides toward improving both.
Hearing aid technology
The six-channel hearing aid was developed in 1975 by Daniel Graupe and in 1982 at City University of New York, the first real-time all digital hearing aid was created. Since then, digital hearing technology has continued to enhance the quality of life for those with hearing loss, regardless of their age.
Generation Y: 1984-2004
Welcome to the Information Age, where the birth of social media and digital globalization became renowned. This age group, also called Millennials, is accustomed to having the world at their fingertips, so to speak, and often use ear buds to stream it directly into their ears from their personal electronic devices.
Noise-induced hearing loss
As a result of constant and on-demand audio stimulation, this generation may be the most vulnerable to developing noise-induced hearing loss. Parents are becoming more diligent about monitoring the volume on their children's personal electronic devices, especially when those PEDs are used with ear buds. Hearing prevention is an important topic among hearing health professionals.
Audiologists like Corry Wilcox, M.A., CCC-A, of Audiology Associates of Lancaster in Ohio, visits local schools, talks directly to kids about noise-induced hearing loss and gives them ear plugs.
"It's hard for parents to always monitor how high the volume is, so I like to talk directly to the kids," she said. "They're always surprised when I share with them what can negatively affect their hearing loss. Even a balloon popping beside their ear can permanently damage their hearing."
Hearing loss doesn't discriminate
Regardless of your age, your worldview or what things you've experienced, hearing loss can create challenges in how you communicate, and it can even affect your emotional well-being. The good news is that help is available for people of all ages. If you're not sure where to start, check out our directory to find a hearing healthcare professional near you and get your quality of life back.
Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
Note: Please speak with your doctor before discontinuing or reducing your intake of any medication.
Often, hearing loss and tinnitus result from ear damage caused by ototoxic drugs. Painkillers, antibiotics, and antidepressants can, over time, lead to constant ear ringing, ear fullness, headaches, and hearing loss- symptoms of an ototoxic drug reaction.
“Ototoxic” means toxic to your ears
Following is an explanation ways in which ototoxic drugs impact hearing loss and tinnitus.
What are ototoxic drugs?
Ototoxic drugs are those that are toxic to the ear, or more specifically to the cochlea or vestibular structures within the ears. Hearing loss and/or tinnitus are potential side effects of using ototoxic drugs. The list of ototoxic medications includes antibiotics, some chemotherapy medications, salicylates, quinine, and loop diuretics.
The various ototoxic medications which have toxic effects on hearing do so in different ways. For instance, aminoglycosides seem to promote degeneration of hair cells and cochlear neurons. This, in turn, generates much free radical damage which leads to the destruction of hair cells and neurons. Without hair cells and neurons the ears cannot function and hearing loss will occur.
When do tinnitus and hearing loss occur?
Patients will usually develop symptoms of either hearing loss or tinnitus following the cessation of therapy. Ototoxicity-induced hearing loss tends to first manifest in the high frequencies and often causes tinnitus. It then progressively involves the lower frequencies and eventually affects speech recognition.
How antioxidants help tinnitus
Since free radical damage is central to lost hearing, tinnitus, and vestibular disturbances, it makes sense that taking antioxidants before being exposed to ototoxic medications will reduce the potential damage.
Antioxidants are chemical substances that convert free radicals into harmless molecules. In this way, antioxidants work to protect cells from the oxidative damage that leads to aging and disease, and can thus help sufferers of tinnitus. There are many forms of antioxidants and they can either be produced in the body or supplied by diet or supplements.
The body produces antioxidants in the form of enzymes, co-enzymes such as co-enzyme Q10 (C0Q10), and sulfur containing compounds such as glutathione. Antioxidants which come from our diet or from supplements are usually vitamins, minerals, flavonoids and carotenoids.
A diet containing plenty of fresh produce is important for the intake of antioxidants. Some foods rich in antioxidants include beans, blueberries, cranberries, artichokes, blackberries, prunes, and raspberries. It is also a good idea to supplement one’s diet with a full-spectrum antioxidant compound to preserve energy and good health. This is especially true for those who are experiencing tinnitus.
Everyone hates a head cold. The watery eyes, runny nose, and stuffed up feeling are awful. Your ears and throat burn, and you barely have the energy to hold up your own head because it feels like it weighs two tons. And then there is the hearing loss. When I have a head cold, my hearing almost always takes a temporary turn for the worse. While I think this happens for everyone, when you start with less than stellar hearing to begin with, it can be a big issue.
With a head cold, fluid can build up in the middle ear, making it harder for sounds to travel to the eardrum. This type of hearing loss is called conductive hearing loss because it relates to difficulties in conducting the sound waves from the environment through to the eardrum. Sometimes fluid in the ear can also cause tinnitus. Layer this on top of sensorineural hearing loss (hearing loss related to damage in the cochlea or the auditory nerve), and you have trouble. Big trouble.
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, the average loss in hearing from fluid in the ears is 24 decibels, which is about equivalent to the impact of wearing earplugs. In severe cases, the effect can be as high as 45 decibels, which is the level of conversational speech. This is a huge impact.
The good news is that the additional hearing loss that comes with a cold is usually temporary. And for me, when a head cold finally clears, and my “normal” impaired hearing returns, I am so grateful for it. In fact, I am often amazed at how well I am hearing, as if there has been some type of miraculous recovery.
In the meantime, here are my tips for surviving a cold with hearing loss:
1. Rest Up: The goal is to get rid of the cold as quickly as possible and the best way to do this is to rest, drink plenty of fluids and use a humidifier to add moisture to the air. Chicken soup can’t hurt either if you can find someone to make some.
2. Over the Counter Medicine: Try taking a decongestant, which can help shrink inflammation in the nasal passages and help dry up excess fluid. Nasal saline sprays can also help with this.
3. Fess Up: I always try to let people know I will have a little extra trouble hearing when I have a head cold. It is funny, because since almost everyone can relate to this, people often do a better job remembering to speak up when I am sick than when I am healthy!
Readers, does your hearing take a turn for the worse when you are sick?