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PLUG YOUR EARS Loud noise can cause hearing loss

PLUG YOUR EARS Loud noise can cause hearing loss   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: R. RAGU

Ears are delicate sense organs. Here's a list of the common causes for preventable hearing loss

Heard the rustle of this newspaper as you turned the page? It reached you as intelligent sound after passing through an incredibly delicate and brilliant mechanism. Sound waves caused by the rustle of the paper reached the lobe-bordered cavity on either side of your head, which we know as ears. From here, the waves were led through the eardrum and transmitted over a set of three bones. The waves then reach the inner ear - a snail shell shaped structure called the cochlea filled with a lymph-like fluid. Quartz like crystals on the tips of the tiny hair-like structures (which are less than one thousandth of the width of the human hair) lining the inner ear picked up these sound waves converting them into electrical impulses, which then got picked up by nerves and transmitted to your brain where they were decoded as intelligent sound. And imagine, all this happens instantaneously!

Cleaning the ear

The point is your ears happen to be delicate sense organs. The funny thing is the ear actually suffers when people try to clean it up by poking into it with ear buds. The poking attacks the delicate membranes of the ear, but since the ear cannot sense pain, we do not understand the damage done. "I have seen patients coming with the inner ear membranes ripped off, because of well-intentioned cleaning with ear buds. Further, the poking stimulates the ear membranes to produce more wax. So, the best way to keep your ears clean is to never poke them, not even if they feel itchy, and not even with cotton buds. Just wipe the wax that moves out with a soft cloth. The ear is capable of cleaning itself and the wax is actually a cleansing and protective fluid full of immunity conferring cells," says Mohan Kameswaran, Madras ENT Research Foundation.

Hearing difficulties

Loss of hearing can cause an individual to become lonely, paranoid and even hostile. Loss of hearing starts silently. "It is a slow process and persons over 60 years of age need to get their hearing checked once a year as early detection can be crucial in managing the loss," says T. K. Sethuraman, ENT surgeon and former professor, Madras Medical College and Government General Hospital, Chennai. But one of the reasons for hearing loss could be a heavy build up of wax in your ear or an infection - both of which should be treated only by ENT specialists. The next step can be to go for an audiogram or hearing test, which can find out the extent of the loss and zero in on an appropriate hearing aid. And as 2 to 3 per cent of Indian babies are born deaf, the Neonatal Hearing Screening test should be compulsorily done for all babies, the earlier the better. However, the good news is that hearing loss can be addressed, if detected early enough. Hardening of the middle ear bones can be set right by surgery or implants and hearing restored. "Today, we have cochlear implants which can help even the born-deaf to hear," says Dr. Kameswaran.

Noise attack

Loud noise happens to be the most common cause of preventable hearing loss. If you are wondering how loud is too loud, rock concerts and firecrackers reach 140 decibels, while booming cars touch 120 decibels, chainsaws create 110 decibels, while motorcycles zoom at 90 decibels. The city traffic has been estimated to be at 80 decibels. During air travel, diving under water, while scaling peaks or while driving up the mountains, there is pressure change within the ear, which can be painful and create temporary or even permanent hearing loss. To tackle this, chew gum or toffee, which will open up the Eustachian tube that connects the middle ear with the back of the nose and consequently equalise the pressure, advises Dr. Kameswaran.


"Even in adults, ear infections can not only cause hearing loss but can also spread to the brain. So, ear infections call for immediate medical attention. In babies, infections like chicken pox and brain fever can cause deafness. So, if you notice a watery or pus-like discharge from the ear, get it treated immediately. If water gets trapped in the ear (such as after a swim), creating a moist environment, it allows bacteria and virus to grow, resulting in infection. So dry your ears thoroughly after exposure to water. And never pour oil or garlic or anything at all into your ear, all of which can contribute to ear infection.Do you hear a ringing, buzzing, humming or whistling sound, or even tunes or songs? Doctors call it Tinnitus. Though it can be harmless in a few people, tinnitus happens to be a symptom of a deeper condition, and not an issue by itself. So, get your ears examined to get to the bottom of the matter. And finally, if your ears are too large and prominent and you feel uncomfortable about it, you can undergo ear-reshaping surgery known as pinnaplasty.HEMA VIJAY

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