There’s a very old adage I remember hearing in medical school from some of the older ENT professors, that the smallest thing you should put in your ear is your elbow. Dr Joe Kosterich talks about keeping ears healthy, including what the ear does, what can and cannot be stuck into the ear, and what to do with ear problems.
Ear health video pictureOur ears are one of these parts of the body that we don’t necessarily think that much about until there’s a problem with it. But we rely on our ears, obviously for hearing as one of the five senses, and the inner part of the ear is also connected with balance. So in this video we’re going to talk about simple things just to look after your ears.
The ear divides into three parts: the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear.
The inner ear is like the nerve centre of the ear, and it’s to do with balance and obviously hearing as well.
The middle part of the ear is like the amplification chamber; that’s the part where, in children in particular, it may well get infections called (not surprisingly) middle ear infections. That will typically cause pain in the ear – the sort of thing a child may scream about at two in the morning with an earache. It does hurt quite a bit; if any of you remember having earache as a child, it is a painful experience. A middle ear infection will generally mean they need an antibiotic.
The outer part of the ear is known as the ear canal, and that’s the part that people sometimes stick things in. The ear canal produces wax. It doesn’t do that just to annoy us; a little bit like mucus in the nose has a protective effect, wax in the ear also has a protective effect. It’s designed to trap dust and other particles and help save the ear from damage. The way the ear is designed, with its outer component and the ear canal, is to protect the more sensitive parts of the ear from external damage, in a similar way that eyes have lids to protect them from damage.
When wax builds up in the ears, it can cause blockage. There are some simple ways of dealing with that. There are some ear drops that you can get over the counter at the chemist, and they are often quite successful. I’ve heard from a lot of Italian people that olive oil in the ears is helpful as well. There are also the ear candles that have their supporters, though not everybody likes them. The ears, if they are blocked, can be syringed out by your GP or a nurse at the practice. This is a process that is relatively simple; like all medical procedures, it is not entirely without risk but, done by the right hands, is quite safe and does provide relief.
Cotton wool buds are a problem. I think that most people will have used them at some stage, but because the ear canal is a blind-end tube, and you’re putting something in there that pushes down the tube when you’re really having to pull stuff out, the tendency is that you can push it further in. Be very careful with cotton wool buds. In fact, they are something that shouldn’t be used. We think of them as being soft, but when you press on a cotton wool bud, they’re not actually all that soft. It is possible to perforate the eardrum with them; it happens rarely, but be careful. Paperclips almost send shivers down your spine. You can really do some damage to yourself with those.
Some people are prone to water staying in the ear if they’ve been swimming, and this particularly happens with people if they have slightly narrower canals. That’s not an abnormality. It’s a bit like some people have brown eyes or blue eyes; some people have wider canals, some people have narrower canals. Giving their head a shake sounds silly, even old-fashioned, but it does work. There are drops you can use to evaporate water out of the ears. For some people, use of earplugs when they’re swimming can be helpful to keep the ears dry as well.
Look after your ears. You only get one set. These days there are cochlear implants, and they’ve been a great innovation for people who have deafness, but really it’s a good idea to look after your ears. Try not to expose yourself to excessive loud noise, because that will damage the inner part of the ear, and that can be irreversible. Protect the ears by not putting things in it like paperclips that shouldn’t be there. If you’re doing a lot of swimming or spending a lot of time in the water, consider using earplugs if you’re a little bit prone to ear infections. Look after your ears with very basic principles – it’s all you need to continue to enjoy all the sounds of life.

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