What should you know about proper ear care?

The ears are the most visible part of the human hearing system. Taking care of your ears is important in many ways. Cleaning is one step, while preventing and treating infections is another. Ear care also include taking steps to avoid unnecessary noise and watching for possible hearing loss. You should call your healthcare provider if you’re worried about any of these issues.

What is the right way to clean your ears?

Here are a few ear hygiene tips:

  • Clean your ears with extra care. Don’t clean your ears with anything smaller than a washcloth on your finger. Don’t use Q-tips®, bobby pins or sharp pointed objects to clean your ears. These objects may injure the ear canal or eardrum.
  • Earwax is the ear’s way of cleaning itself. If you have a build-up of earwax that is blocking your hearing, see a healthcare provider to have it removed. Don’t try to remove it on your own.
  • If you experience itching or pain in your ears, call your healthcare provider. They’ll examine you, advise you on suitable treatment and help you decide if you need to see a specialist.
  • If you have pierced ears, clean your earrings and earlobes regularly with rubbing alcohol.

What should you know about illness, medications and how they can affect your ears?

Because of the ways that our bodies are connected, certain illnesses can make ear infections or hearing loss more likely. In addition, your ears can be affected by side effects from medications.

  • Some illnesses and medical conditions can affect your hearing. If you experience sudden hearing loss or have constant noise in your ears or head, see a healthcare provider promptly.
  • Drainage from the ear isn’t normal and usually suggests infection. See your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
  • Some medications can affect hearing. Take medications only as directed, and consult your provider if you develop difficulty hearing, balance problems or ringing in the ears.

What does noise have to do with ear care?

Illness and earwax aren’t the only things you need to think about in terms of proper ear care. It's important to guard against noise.

  • At home or work, wear hearing protection during exposure to loud levels of noise. This includes when you’re mowing the lawn, using a leaf blower or using power tools. The law requires you to use hearing protection if you work in a noisy environment. Homecare centers, hunting shops and some garden centers carry ear-protecting headgear. If hearing protection is available at work, use it.
  • When using stereos and home theater systems, avoid high volume levels. If you think it’s too loud, it probably is.
  • When using personal sound systems, the volume should be at a comfortable level. If someone else can hear what you’re listening to with ear buds, the volume is too high. Remove the headphones from time to time to give your ears a rest.
  • Wear earplugs at rock concerts, nightclubs and loud motor sporting events.
  • Keep automobile sound systems at sensible volumes. Doing this can help you avoid hearing damage and allow you to hear and yield to emergency vehicles.

What kinds of safety issues involve your ears?

Safety and your ears is not just a work issue. You should take care of your ears when you’re doing activities you like, too. Here are some tips for other activities:

  • Always wear a helmet when you bike, ski, roller blade or participate in any other activity that puts you at risk for head and ear injuries.
  • If you scuba dive, learn and practice proper underwater techniques to avoid potentially damaging changes in pressure inside your ears.
  • When flying in an airplane, swallow and yawn frequently when the plane is coming down to equalize pressure in your ears. If you have an upper respiratory problem such as a cold or sinus infection, take a decongestant a few hours before landing, and/or use a decongestant spray just prior to descending and on landing.
  • You can buy earplugs with special filters to help equalize air pressure in ears during air travel.

General ear care tips

  • Have your ears checked regularly by your primary care doctor. Have your hearing checked by an audiologist (a provider who specializes in hearing issues) if you or anyone else questions whether your hearing is normal. Consult a specialist as needed.
  • When outdoors in sunny weather, remember to use a sunscreen on your ears.
  • If you notice unusual bumps or scaly areas on the exterior ear, call your healthcare provider.
  • See an ear doctor immediately if you injure your ears, experience ear pain, or notice any changes in your ears or hearing. Sometimes ear pain can originate in the teeth or jaws or the neck.

What are the signs of hearing loss?

Here are some warning signs of hearing loss:

  • You have difficulty hearing conversations, especially in the presence of background noise.
  • You frequently ask others to repeat what they’ve said.
  • You don’t always understand what other people are saying and you answer inappropriately.
  • You have difficulty hearing on the telephone.
  • You agree, nod your head or smile during conversations when you are not sure what has been said. Or you strain to hear or keep up with conversations.

Additional warning signs of hearing loss include:

  • Requiring the television or radio volume to be louder than others in the room prefer.
  • Feeling that people are mumbling or have marbles in their mouth when they talk.
  • Having a hard time hearing environmental sounds, such as birds chirping.
  • Withdrawing from conversations and social situations because it’s too difficult to hear.
  • Reading lips so you can try to follow what people are saying.
  • Hearing noise within your ears or head, called tinnitus, which isn’t caused by an external sound source.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Your ears are important to you. You can do several things to make sure they stay healthy by protecting them from injury, keeping the outsides clean, and paying attention to how well you’re hearing. Don’t put things inside your ears. If you have any questions, call your healthcare provider for an appointment or to see if you need to see a specialist.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/13/2020.

References

  • American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.. Accessed 11/13/2020. Ears (https://www.enthealth.org/ears-landing-page/)
  • American Academy of Family Physicians. . Accessed 11/13/2020.Ear Health and Care (https://familydoctor.org/ear-health-care/)
  • National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders. Accessed 11/13/2020.Hearing, Ear Infections and Deafness. (https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing-ear-infections-deafness)

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