Category Archives: hearing

Itchy Ears: Causes and Possible Solutions

September 26th, 2018

Screen Shot 2018-10-26 at 11.40.05 AMGot an itchy ear? It may be more than someone dropping some gossip behind your back, as the old wives tale goes. There are several reasons the ear canal (the tube that connect your outer ear to your eardrum) can become irritated or itchy. How to get relief depends on what’s making you scratch.

But be warned … no matter the cause, it’s never a good idea to stick an object in your ear. You could damage your inner ear, including the tiny bones that help you to hear.

Itchy ears might be caused by an earwax buildup. Even though wax is a natural way for your body to clean dead skin cells and dirt out of your ears, too much can make them itch. But don’t use a cotton swab to remove the wax, as it can act as a plunger, pushing the wax deeper inside where it can get stuck. Try instead over-the-counter ear drops to break up the wax. If that doesn’t help, make an appointment with one of our friendly doctors. They can use a special tool to safely remove built-up wax.

On the flip side, ears can also get itchy if they don’t have enough wax inside, so don’t clean out your ears too often!

Itchy ears can sometimes be a sign of an ear infection. When you have a cold, the flu, or allergies, the bacteria and viruses in your body can also infect your ear. But infections can also happen when you aren’t even sick. Swimmer’s ear occurs when water stays in your ear after spending time swimming. Too much moisture wears away the natural layer of defense against germs in your ear canal. To stop the itch, you’ll need to treat the infection. Some may go away on their own, but our doctors can also prescribe ear drops. You may need to take them a few times a day for a week. Other infections may need a course of antibiotics.

The skin in your ears is much like the skin on the rest of your body. Itchiness may be caused by eczema or psoriasis, as it affects the rest of your body. The skin inside your ears could be itching because of an allergic reaction. Products like hair spray or shampoo could cause a reaction to sensitive skin. Objects that contains certain metals (nickel), like earrings can cause irritation as well. Plastic, rubber, or metal objects your use near or inside your ears, such as earbuds or a hearing aids, can also cause a rash called contact dermatitis.

If you have a concern about itching in your ears, feel free to make an appointment to discuss the best way to resolve this irritating condition.

Hearing and Dementia: Healthy Hearing is Linked to a Healthy Brain

September 18th, 2017


Your ears catch the sound in your world, but it’s your brain that makes sense of it. New research suggests that hearing loss could have a greater cost on your brain than just the loss of information. Hearing loss could actually be a risk indicator for cognitive decline linked to dementia. Or, to look at the bright side, hearing correction can actually delay the onset of dementia, research shows.

Dementia is a general term used to describe severe memory loss and a decline in mental ability usually affecting those 65 years and older. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. The risk of developing dementia increases for older adults if they have hearing loss, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Researchers found that for adults 50 years and older, those with poor hearing were more likely to have a dementia diagnosis than those with normal hearing. Other factors that increase the statistical likelihood of dementia include hypertension, obesity, smoking, depression, inactivity, social isolation and diabetes.

But dementia may be delayed by tackling these risk factors. A new report suggests that as many as one third of all dementia cases may be delayed or prevented by eliminating some of the risk factors — specifically, active treatment of hypertension in middle and old age, as well as increasing exercise and social engagement, reducing smoking, and managing hearing loss, depression, diabetes, and obesity.

It is estimated that more than 40 million Americans have noise-induced hearing loss (the most preventable type of hearing loss). But these findings suggest that rather than just being an inconvenient part of aging, hearing loss may play a much more important role in brain health than we’ve previously thought.

Just as many adults are diligent about getting yearly physicals, it is good practice to schedule a hearing test every year. Make an appointment with our qualified staff to have your hearing evaluated. Once we have a baseline audiogram, we can watch for changes and take action if necessary.

If you are diagnosed with hearing loss and hearing aids are recommended, don’t delay treatment. Today’s hearing devices are discreet, comfortable and connect to the latest technology. Not only will you be able to hear better, recent research indicates your brain will be healthier, too.

Relief from Vertigo using Epley’s Maneuver

June 30th, 2017

dizzzyIf your world is spinning like a tilt-o-whirl, you may have a condition called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). People who have BPPV become intensely dizzy seemingly out of the blue — even glancing up or rolling over in bed can cause extreme vertigo and even nausea. But it’s possible for some people to find relief from BPPV using a series of rather of bizarre-looking movements called Epley’s maneuver.

To understand why it works, first you need to know why BPPV happens. In one part of your inner ear, tiny crystals of calcium carbonate develop over time. They aren’t a problem if they stay put – but if these crystals dislodge and float to another part of the ear, then you’ve got trouble. Even small head movements can cause the loose crystals to trigger inner-ear sensors. It’s like a monkey trying to dial a phone … all sorts of confusing messages are sent to the brain.

What causes the crystals to dislodge in the first place? Researchers don’t know for sure. But if BPPV can be diagnosed, a doctor can lead you through an exercise to move the crystals into another part of the ear chamber where they’ll be out of the way and eventually absorbed by the body … a little like those water-filled puzzles that you tip in order to  move the rings onto a stick. The most successful of these is called Epley’s maneuver.

It’s a fairly simple exercise that involves tilting your head and leaning in various directions. The maneuver is even easy enough to try at home—as long as you know how to properly do it. Many people who recognize the onset of BPPV use videos for instruction. One of the most popular is produced by the American Academy of Neurology. But first you have to identify which ear is causing the vertigo (If you get dizzy every time you roll left in bed, then your left ear is the likely culprit). Once you know which ear has the problem floaties, look to that side when you begin the maneuver. You may also need to stabilize your neck after you try it — avoid any extreme movement of the neck for 48 hours.

There are other ways to address the problem. Some people prefer getting from their doctor an anti-vertigo medication that suppresses symptoms. And BPPV cam go away eventually by itself, but it could take weeks.

If Epley’s maneuver doesn’t help, it’s possible that you didn’t do it right, or that the crystals are in a part of your ear canal that requires another simple maneuver (called the Log Roll). But it’s best to leave it to the experts. The advantage of talking to our doctors is that you can confirm you’re treating the correct side and the correct canal. They can pinpoint where the calcium crystals are and how to move them along.

Protect Your Kids’ Ears with Hearing Protection

March 6th, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 3.41.33 PMYou want your kids to be safe and healthy … you brush their teeth, wrestle them into seatbelts, and use hand sanitizer like it’s going out of style. But what are you doing to protect their ears? Excess noise can hurt kids’ long-term hearing. Being exposed to everyday noises, such as listening to loud music, being in a band, attending sporting events, or riding a dirt bike, can lead to hearing loss over time. You can minimize the damage by teaching your children to protect their ears in loud situations.

Encourage your children to use hearing protection when they are exposed to noise that is too loud or lasts too long. The louder the sound, the quicker hearing damage will occur. Hearing protectors don’t block out all noise — they limit the level of sound and make things more quiet.

When to Use Hearing Protectors for Kids

  • When attending loud events in stadiums, gymnasiums, amusement parks, theaters, auditoriums, and other entertainment facilities.
  • When visiting auto races, sporting events, and music concerts, including symphonies and rock concerts.
  • If riding a snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle, or farm tractor.
  • When participating in shooting sports. Hearing protectors should be a standard part of shooting-safety gear as noise from a gunshot can damage your child’s hearing immediately and permanently.

Types of Hearing Protectors

Earplugs: Earplugs come in either soft foam or hard plastic inserts that fit directly into the ear canal. Earplugs can be less expensive than earmuffs, and come in both disposable and reusable options. They are easy to carry around in a purse or pocket. Some even come with a neck strap so that your child won’t lose one if it falls out. The soft foam reshapes itself to fill your ear canal, but the silicone, rubber, or plastic plugs need to have a more exact fit.

Earmuffs: Earmuffs often look like wireless headphones. The part that fits over the ear is filled with fluid, foam, or both. Earmuffs often cost more than earplugs, but they are easier for young children to wear correctly. Check to make sure the earmuffs are not too loose for your child’s head. If your child wears glasses, check to make sure the earmuffs seal properly over the glasses and are not uncomfortable.

How can you help kids be willing to use ear protection? Start by discussing whether they would rather wear earplugs that can be hidden by hair or a hat, or make a fashion statement with more noticeable hearing protectors. Fun and fashionable styles of hearing protection are available in stores and online. Make sure that earmuffs are within easy reach. Keep them visible and handy. Hearing protectors in a drawer won’t do any good.

When hearing protectors aren’t an option, cover your ears with your hands, lower the volume, or move away from the noise. By teaching your children about hearing protectors and why and when they are needed, you can empower your them to make smart decisions that can protect their hearing now and in the future.

Don’t Blame the Vocal Cords: Tone Deafness and Singing

February 20th, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-02-20 at 6.25.57 PMAs anyone who’s watched an episode of American Idol knows, not everyone can sing. Some of us can carry a tune, and others … well … we’d better keep our day jobs. Tone deafness is the inability to hear and reproduce relative pitch — to pick up a sound with your ear, process it in your brain, and then create it with your vocal cords. Why does bad singing happen?  The breakdown could occur anywhere along that process … in the ear, the brain, or the throat.

Nearly all of us are equipped with the biological hardware to produce a wide range of notes, according to Sean Hutchins, a neuroscientist who studies music. But singing is a complex expression.  “The majority of people, around 60 percent, have a difficult time” with it, he said.

The majority of bad singers don’t have bad vocal cords — their throat muscles work just fine. So, do bad singers hear notes incorrectly to begin with? To find out Hutchins asked volunteers to reproduce synthesized vocal tones that he made with a computer. First, they matched the note with a computer note. Almost everyone was able to make the match, suggesting that for most people hearing was not the problem. But when people were asked to use their own voices to match the note, most of them … especially non-musicians … had a harder time.

Even when he played the same note more than 20 times, those who got it wrong the first time could not reproduce the pitch. They sang the same erroneous note over and over, as if they were locked in. When they were shown a screen that depicted the pitch of their voice compared to the actual note, they still couldn’t get it right.

The fact that some people can’t find a note even with help, and even after many tries, suggests that the brain is dialed in to the error, even when the ear knows better. Bad singers know they’re off-key, but they can’t find the right note. The term for this error is imitative deficit. The brains of bad singers associate a note we hear with the wrong muscle movement in the voice. The wires are crossed.

Their is hope for the screechers though. Researchers studying brain trauma have found that remapping the brain is possible, but it can be a laborious task, requiring practice every day for years. Hard work: the answer nobody likes to hear.

Are you tone deaf? Test your ear!