Hearing Health: How Can You Take Care of Your Ears?
Aon Health & Wellbeing Conversation #2
Loss of hearing can be limiting and affects one’s personal and work life. Those diagnosed with ear-related conditions face restricted everyday physical opportunities, limited socialisation and decreased self-confidence, resulting in emotional and psychological dilemmas.
About the ear and hearing
The cochlea, located in the inner ear is the actual organ responsible for hearing. This organ receives sound waves and translates them into signals which are then sent to the brain to be analysed and interpreted.
Hearing ability is tested using a range of speech frequency and levels of intensity. Normal hearing has an auditory threshold of 0 to 20dBHL (decibel1 hearing level). Mild hearing loss starts at a register of above 20dBHL to 40dBHL. Those who register 70dBHL and above are said to have severe to profound hearing loss.
Prolonged exposure to excessive noise and sounds louder than 85dB can cause permanent damage to hearing ability. Impairment may be experienced in both ear (bilateral deafness) or just one ear (single-sided deafness).
Hearing loss is almost always irreversible and can be caused by congenital reasons, injury, diseases and infections, use of certain medications, exposure to excessive or loud noises, and aging, amongst others.
While some causes of hearing impairment and deafness may be uncontrollable or inevitable, others may be preventable. One way is by decreasing the probabilities of injury and infection through proper ear care:
- Clean only the outer part of the ear to soften or take out earwax. Use a damp washcloth to wipe away hardened earwax that sits at the end of the ear canal. Cotton swabs should be used only to clean the outer ear and not be inserted in the canal as it will only push earwax into the middle ear. It is recommended to let your physicians do the cleaning of the ear if you feel there has been a build-up.
- Do not insert any object or let any fluid be instilled into your ear. Only do so if prescribed or administered by a health professional.
- Keep your ears dry as excess moisture promotes bacteria growth. If you feel that there is water in the ear, tilt your head to the side and gently tug on the ear lobe to let the water out. Ensure you dry your ears after bathing or swimming.
- Do not slap a person on the ear. The sound created by the motion can damage the eardrum and lead to an infection.
- Avoid being in an environment that exposes you to excessive and loud noise. If unavoidable, protect your ears with earplugs or muffs.
If your occupation subjects you to a surrounding where sound is intensified and duration of exposure is lengthened (such as construction or industrial sites), The Philippine Department of Labor and Employment mandates the Occupational Permissible Exposure Limits (for noise) as stated in the table below.
Table 1: Permissible Noise Exposure
|Duration per day (hours)
||Sound levels (dBA), slow response
|1 - 1/2
Source: DOLE Occupational Safety and Health Standards, as amended 1989
* Ceiling value: No exposure in excess of 115dBA is allowed.
Other ways you can maintain good hearing health is by:
- Ensuring that volume is adjusted to a comfortable level and take breaks to allow your ears to rest when using headphones
- Taking medications only as directed
- Exercising to allow proper blood flow, and
- Managing stress as it is proven to contribute to tinnitus2.
When it gets serious
It’s always best to have regular check-ups to ensure proper health. Additionally, see your doctor when you experience the following:
- Pain or itching in the ears
- Feeling of fullness, or ears seemingly plugged
- Smelly discharge coming out of the ear
- Worsening and repetitive partial hearing loss
- Ringing in the ears or tinnitus.
1 decibel – unit to measure the intensity of a sound
2 tinnitus – perception of noise or ringing in the ears