Andrew Heffernan, MD,
Healthy Living

Taking Care of Your Ears: Why It’s So Important

Jan 24 2022

When thinking about your overall personal health, the health of your ears is typically an afterthought.

However, your ear health is very important. Not only do they account for one of our five senses, but the inner ear can also have significant impacts on your ability to maintain balance.

This is why Andrew Heffernan, MD, an otolaryngologist at Bon Secours Carolina ENT, says it’s essential to prioritize your ears.

“One of the best ways to keep your ears healthy is by wearing ear protection when you are around loud noises,” he shares. “Ear protection is necessary if you fire firearms or attend a concert with loud music. Overall, limiting your ear’s exposure to loud noises is the ideal way to keep them healthy.”

One of the most important reasons to protect your ears is to ensure you do not suffer from hearing loss. While there are some cases in which hearing loss can be treated and even reversed, that is not always the case. Additionally, the onset of hearing loss is not always noticeable either. So, it’s important to be mindful of symptoms, such as ringing in your ears.

Tinnitus is a sound that you hear in your head that does not have an external source, which means other people cannot hear it,” Dr. Heffernan explains. “It is often a secondary reaction that occurs after the hearing loss takes place.

Dr. Heffernan adds that this condition is very common. He shares that about 20 percent of people will experience problems with tinnitus.

While prolonged exposure to loud sounds is the most common way to damage the ear, many other missteps can lead to problems. For instance, you may think you’re proactive about ear health by cleaning them out with cotton swabs. However, using objects like this to clean your ears can result in wax impaction by pushing the wax deeper into the ear canal.

“Q-tips should be limited to cleaning around the very external portion of the ear,” Dr. Heffernan shares. “Using a Q-tip at the opening of the ear canal is OK, but it is important to avoid placing them into the inner ear canal.”

Another popular trend you may have seen on social media is using wax candles to clean out ear wax. However, Dr. Heffernan strongly advises against this method, pointing out that ear candles are not approved for medical use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In addition to burn risks, the candling process has been known to do more harm than good.

At the end of the day, Dr. Heffernan has this advice when it comes to ear wax.

“The body makes wax for a reason. It has antibacterial and anti-itch properties, and it also helps keep the inner ear dry, which helps prevent infections. So, some wax is a good thing.”

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