November 1, 2014
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Ear Health

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Ear health: top 10 things to know

There are many things to know about your ears and how to keep them healthy, but here are the big 10.

1. Not all ear infections need an antibiotic.

Sometimes when we hear the word "infection," we automatically think of antibiotics. But antibiotics are only effective against bacteria. If an ear infection is caused by a virus or a fungus, then antibiotics won't help anyway.

Mild outer ear infections do not always need an antibiotic, but many will require antibiotic eardrops. Most middle ear infection are caused by a virus and usually don't call for antibiotics. Inner ear infections often don't require antibiotics either, unless they are clearly linked to a bacterial infection.

2. Ear infections are more common in children.

Middle ear infections are more common in children ages 6 months to 3 years because their eustachian tubes are small. Outer ear infections are more common in children ages 7 to 12.

3. Many ear infections are painful.

Ear infections can be painful. If you or your child has an ear infection and are in pain, use over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. It's best to talk to your pharmacist or doctor about which pain reliever is best for you or your child.

4. Swimmer's ear isn't always caused by swimming.

Outer ear infections are often referred to as swimmer's ear because kids tend to get the infections when they swim a lot. But outer ear infections can also be caused by other foreign material (e.g., hairspray, sand) or liquids getting into the ear.

5. Never, ever, stick anything in your ear.

So, you have an itch, and you want to get the wax out of yours ears? Don't stick a cotton swab in your ear! Your ear actually cleans itself, and sticking anything in can push earwax further into your ear or cause damage to your ear.

6. You can do a lot to prevent hearing loss.

Most of us love listening to music. And we listen to more of it than ever thanks to our personal music devices. Unfortunately, this listening can take a toll on our ears, especially if we listen to music too loudly. Save your hearing by keeping the volume down and wearing protective devices when you're exposed to loud noise for long periods of time.

7. We lose our hearing as we age.

As we age, we lose the function of the hair cells in our inner ear that play a critical role in hearing. Age-related hearing loss is also called presbycusis, and genetics seems to play a role in how quickly or early hearing is lost.

8. Hearing loss or deafness is common.

It might be hard to believe, but in fact, one out of every 10 Canadians has hearing loss. Although hearing loss is more common as we age - more than half of Canadians over 65 years of age have some degree of hearing loss - it can happen at any age. Causes of hearing loss include ear infections, structural ear problems, trauma, and - rarely - tumours. Some hearing loss is caused by infections, such as mumps, meningitis, or rubella.

9. There have been huge advancements in assistive hearing technology.

For people who need assistive hearing devices, there have been tremendous advancements in technology. Today, hearing aids are much smaller and are programmable. Programming allows the hearing aid to be much more effective in different situations, especially noisy environments. And if hearing aids aren't helping, cochlear implants are an option. Light-alerting systems and assistive devices for the phone can also help people with hearing loss.

10. Hearing loss can be mild or gradual and you may not notice it.

Although some hearing loss can be severe and occur suddenly, hearing loss can also be mild and occur gradually. Your friends and family might be the first to notice. If they do, take their comments to heart and have your hearing checked. If you notice that you need to increase the volume on the radio or TV, or you are having a hard time following conversations, it could mean your hearing is starting to go. Again, it's important to have your hearing checked if this is the case.


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