If you are experiencing problems with your hearing, it’s important to see an audiologist for a hearing test and possibly an ear cleaning.
Whether you work in a noisy environment or are a frequent concert-goer, exposure to loud noise over time can negatively impact your hearing. However, signs of hearing loss can be subtle, and the most common way it’s noticed or reported is by your friends and family.
“Getting a baseline hearing test from an audiologist is an important first step so we can evaluate if your hearing is normal or if you’ve already experienced hearing loss,” says clinical audiologist Dr. Alexandra Costlow. “Then, in the future, if you have a change in your hearing, we will be able to quantify for certain if your hearing has decreased or worsened.”
What Causes Hearing Loss?
There are two main types of hearing loss: sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs in the inner ear or the auditory nerve and can be caused by factors such as aging, genetics or prolonged exposure to loud noise over time. Conductive hearing loss happens when there is a problem with sound moving through the middle ear. This can be caused by a hole in your eardrum, fluid in your middle ear, other disorders of the outer or middle ear or a blockage in the ear canal from a buildup of earwax, also known as cerumen.
How Do I Know If I’m Experiencing Hearing Loss?
Signs of sensorineural hearing loss include feeling like speech is unclear or muffled, having to ask for repetitions in conversation or experiencing difficulty hearing in places with a lot of background noise, such as a crowded restaurant. “The most common way people identify their own hearing loss is when friends or family notice it and point it out,” says Dr. Costlow.
Signs for conductive hearing loss vary. “The signs of both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss can be the same, but with conductive hearing loss, patients may also report that their ears feel clogged, they can’t pop their ears or they feel underwater,” says Dr. Costlow. Fortunately, most causes of conductive hearing loss can be treated.
Should I Get My Ears Cleaned?
Earwax occurs naturally to protect the lining of the ear canal. But an abundance of earwax can build up to block the ear canal and cause a temporary conductive hearing loss.
“This is not a problem for everyone as some people don’t generate as much earwax as others and may never run into this problem,” explains Dr. Costlow. “For other people who generate a lot of earwax, it can cause acute conductive hearing loss until it’s removed.”
For people who generate a lot of earwax, how frequently you should get your ears cleaned varies, so keep notice of the signs of hearing loss so you can make an appointment with an audiologist or otolaryngologist, also known as an ENT). “It varies person to person, but you will develop a sense of how often you need to get your ears cleaned. Having your ears cleaned once or twice per year is most common,” says Dr. Costlow.
It’s especially important to get your ears cleaned by a professional and avoid using Q-tips or at-home ear wax removal solutions as they can be harmful to your health. Q-tips can also be dangerous when used inside of the ear canal as they can further impact your earwax or cause damage to your ear canal or eardrum.
Why it’s Important to Get Checked
Untreated hearing loss can affect your overall health and well-being and has been found to be associated with an increased risk of dementia and social isolation.
“If you’re experiencing problems with your hearing, it’s important to schedule an appointment directly with an audiologist or ENT,” says Dr. Costlow. “They can assess what type of hearing loss you’re experiencing and, if necessary, safely clean and remove excess earwax from your ears.”
[Main photo credit: iStock.com/pixdeluxe]