Andrey Popov Istockphoto

How loud is too loud?

OUR ears are much more than a couple of appendages on either side of our head.

The ear is a complex piece of equipment consisting of many parts - not just the visible section - and is responsible not only for hearing but for maintaining balance as well.

The outer ear captures sound waves which are converted into mechanical energy by the ear drum and the tiny muscles and bones in the middle ear.

The inner ear changes this mechanical energy into nerve impulses which are then transmitted to the brain. These nerve impulses are the messages we decipher as sound.

Semi-circular tubes or canals within the inner ear, acting like a series of spirit levels, provide us with our sense of balance.

It's not surprising that with such a complicated system things can go wrong. In fact, ear problems are very common and they can be due to many causes. Some causes are very much self-inflicted.

Industrial deafness has long been recognised as a work health and safety hazard, but research has now shown that whether it's a power tool or loud music, the negative impact on the ears is just the same.

Possible factors which are likely to cause damage to the ears range from jackhammers to jet skis, from fruit juicers to formula one racing. There is a maximum safe exposure time without ear protection.

Visit the website hearingawarenessweek .org.au to find out how loud is too loud with respect to your favourite electrical or music event.

In fact, consistent exposure to loud music is the most common cause of hearing loss. It could be a portable music player or a rock concert; in any event, it's an easily preventable cause. Unfortunately, as the deafness may not become apparent for some years, treatment is often initiated far too late.

"Noise destroys - turn down the volume" is also the message to come from the Australian Tinnitus Association. Tinnitus literally means noise or ringing in the ears, but the constantly annoying sound that many sufferers live with 24 hours a day takes many forms.

Many of us experience tinnitus from time to time; but for a small percentage of the population it can be severe and quite disturbing. Apart from noise there are some other possible aggravating factors for tinnitus.

Some medicines - notably some anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant medicines - have been identified as potential causes. Caffeine - found in tea, coffee, cola or chocolate - and alcohol may worsen tinnitus in some people. Smoking, which narrows the blood vessels which supply vital oxygen to the ears, can also make tinnitus worse.

Tinnitus can often be managed or controlled reasonably well but a cure doesn't really seem close at hand.

However, treatment for some other common ear problems is often much easier, provided the cause can be identified early on.

A wax lump or plug can build up in the outer ear and is one of the most common reasons for a short-term loss of hearing. Children and adults produce ear wax. This is normal and acts to protect the ear. The wax usually moves out of the ear along the ear canal. Movements such as chewing and talking help move the wax.

Symptoms

Ear discomfort (e.g. itchiness)

Blocked or full feeling in the ear

Noise in the ears (tinnitus)

Reduced hearing

Ear wax may need wax-softening ear drops to remove it from the ear. Wax may be removed with warm water or normal saline (salt water). This is called "syringing". A doctor can also remove ear wax with a special instrument.

Ear wax will naturally leave the ear - as wax comes out of the ear canal, wipe it away with a soft cloth.

Do not clean ear canal with hairpins, cotton buds, pencils or other objects - wax may be pushed further down the canal, or damage the canal or ear drum.

Hearing impairment, if not attended to, can lead to serious consequences.

Frustration and embarrassment can lead to reduced social function, isolation and loneliness. This can worsen depression and dementia. Hearing impairment is a "hidden" disability and people will often try to hide hearing impairment. Seventy-three per cent of Australians aged over 70 have a mild to severe hearing loss. This percentage rises as age increases. As many as 85% of people in nursing homes are typically hearing impaired.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice on hearing loss or call into Bundaberg Pharmacist Advice, 128 Bourbong Street and talk to our professional staff.

*Some information supplied by PSA Self Care, Dr John Bell and the Deafness Forum of Australia.



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