We all know our ears are important for hearing, and they play a crucial part in balance too. One in 10 under-70s have significant hearing problems, and the figure is even higher in older age groups.
Hearing problems can cause just as many problems as poor eyesight, contributing to social isolation and even depression. Yet while most of us get our eyes tested regularly (and the rest of us should!) most of us would never dream of getting our hearing checked 'just in case'. But when ears cause pain, we certainly feel we need help - it's the most common reason for parents to call a doctor out of surgery hours for their child. Read on to find out how you can keep your ears in good shape.
Age-related hearing loss - don't suffer in silence!
Most people wait a decade after their hearing deteriorates to get a hearing check. Perhaps they're embarrassed at the thought of needing a hearing aid - but most people who get them wish they'd sought help sooner. High street stores now offer free hearing screening and can even fit NHS hearing aids - why not see if they could help you?
Tinnitus - what's the buzz?
Tinnitus is simply an abnormal noise that you can hear but that doesn't come from the outside world. It comes in many forms - buzzing, whistling, even roaring; it can affect one or both ears; and it can come and go or be there all the time. It's almost always more noticeable when you're tired or in quiet surroundings and can range from mild to thoroughly distressing. It's very common - about one in six people have it, but only about one in 100 suffer really badly.
While it's sometimes brought on by long-term loud noise exposure or as a side effect of medicines like aspirin or quinine, there is usually no cause found. For many people, keeping background noise (such as a radio) on can control your symptoms. It's well worth getting a hearing check, as tinnitus often comes on at the same time as age-related hearing loss, and a hearing aid may help enormously.
Always see your GP for severe symptoms or tinnitus in one ear, especially if hearing in that ear is affected - it can be caused by a non-cancerous growth on the hearing nerve.
All of our ears produce wax, and usually it comes out by itself, carrying trapped dirt with it and actually keeping our ears clean. But if it builds up it can block your ear canal, causing hearing problems or even tinnitus or dizziness Ear drops (olive oil or sodium bicarbonate) two to three times a day for a few days can soften wax, letting it come out naturally - if it's still a problem, your practice nurse may be able to syringe them. Never dig out wax with cotton buds (or anything else) - you can push the wax further in or damage your delicate eardrum.
Earache - should I worry?
We may think of earache as a childhood condition, but it affects lots of adults too. It can come from the outer ear (outside the eardrum), the middle ear or even be 'referred' pain from a painful condition affecting your throat or teeth. In children, it usually settles on its own without antibiotics. You should see a doctor for earache accompanied by high fever, discharge from the ear, dizziness, swelling around the ear or severe headache, but otherwise try painkillers for a couple of days and seek medical help if it persists.
Swimming into trouble
If your New Year's resolutions included taking up swimming, one of the few downsides is infection of the outer ear, sometimes called 'swimmer's ear'. Symptoms include pain, itching, reduced hearing and discharge. Treatment is with ear drops from your GP. Don't let it put you off swimming - instead, wear a tightly fitting swimming cap (and maybe earplugs) to keep your ears dry while swimming.
With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.