Today is the next chapter in our Quick Questions series!
Question: What do grommets look like?
Answer: Surgically inserted into the eardrum, grommets are small flanged plastic tubes which aim to ventilate the middle ear until the body's natural breathing tube (Eustachian Tube) starts to function normally again. This means that any fluid build up in the middle ear can be drained away. They come in a variety of different sizes, colours and shapes, typically falling out after around 6-12 months. Often you won't know if they have fallen out, however sometimes you can be lucky and find it on your pillow or just on the edge of your ear. I typically describe them as looking a bit like if you sliced a small tip off the ink reservoir from a BIC ballpoint pen.
Question: Why can't older people always hear those mosquito ringtones?
Answer: Several years ago, novel ringtones which emit very high frequency sounds similar to those made by mosquitoes were 'doing the rounds'. Often described as "secret ringtones" of around 17000 Hertz (17kHz), they were aimed at younger listeners who were able to hear it and took advantage of the natural loss of hearing sensitivity as people age.
The cochlea is our permanent hearing organ which is shaped like a tiny snail shell. How we hear is that sound travels down the ear canal, through the middle ear and into the basal end (base) of the cochlea first. The resulting movement within the cochlea results in electrical signals being sent up to the brain (and that's how we hear). Based on it's shape and tonotopic organization, lower frequencies stimulate the further end (apex) of the cochlea while higher frequency sounds effect the base of the cochlea. Through natural wear and tear as sounds regularly pass through the base of the cochlea, we can get some decreased sensitivity to higher frequencies as we age. This therefore impacts our high pitch hearing more so than the lower frequencies.
Question: What are exostoses?
Answer: Exostoses is often described as a benign growth of new bone on the surface of existing bone. It can range in size, shape and location on the body. Exostoses in the ear is sometimes known as "surfer's ear" and typically caused by irritation to the ear canal from ongoing exposure to water and wind. While exostoses typically doesn't cause pain, ongoing growth can result in hearing loss. It is recommended for those who swim, surf or dive regularly consider using a set of protective earplugs as this may reduce the speed of exostoses growth.
Think you may need a set of protective plugs? Contact our clinic today to have a set of custom plugs made by one of our friendly audiologists!
Several years back when I was returning from an overseas holiday, I had the most excruciating pain in my ears and head as we descended back into Sydney. Days earlier, I had developed a cold and didn't think much of it at the time. It wasn't until the pain struck me that I realized how bad flying can be when you are congested. Sometimes people develop pain in their ears during air travel because of an unequal pressure build up on either side of the eardrums. This is noticed most during takeoff and landing.
What is happening?
The middle ear (space behind the eardrum) is filled with air and connected to the nose through a channel called the Eustachian Tube. During flight, the air pressure in the sinuses and middle ear need to be equal with the cabin pressure inside the plane. As the plane ascends and descends, the pressure changes within the ear. If you have an ear infection or anything which causes a blockage in your Eustachian Tube, this restricts the ability for the middle ear to reach equilibrium, resulting in pain.
Things such as colds, allergies, ear or sinus infections can result in an inability to equalize the ears.
Although pain is the main symptom experienced, sometimes pressure change can cause tinnitus (“ringing” or “buzzing” sounds in the ears), vertigo (dizziness/imbalance) or hearing loss. In very severe cases, perforation of the eardrum may even occur.
What to do?
Typically, most medical professionals would recommend avoiding flying while you have any active infection to reduce your chances of complications and pain.
If flying is unavoidable, then there are several tips that may help:
⦁ Sucking on lollies: swallowing, yawning or chewing can assist in allowing air to flow up the Eustachian Tube more easily. Chewing gum can also help. For younger children and babies, feeding, drinking or giving them a dummy will encourage them to swallow.
⦁ Valsalva Manoeuvre: this technique can assist in equalizing the ears. Breathe in, then breathe out gently with your mouth closed and pinching your nose. By not allowing the air to escape, it’ll be pushed into the Eustachian Tube and you’ll feel your ears “pop” as air rushes in. This technique can be repeated whenever you feel any ear discomfort.
⦁ Saline nasal sprays: can assist in keeping the nasal passages clear of mucus. By keeping the nasal passages clear, this may assist in keeping the Eustachian Tube clear.
⦁ Air pressure-regulating earplugs: can be purchased from pharmacies and at the airport. These slow the rate of air pressure change on the eardrums, reducing the chances of a build up in pressure.
⦁ Nasal balloons: these balloons can be blown up with your nose (blocking one nostril at a time and blowing through the other) and have been found to help relieve pain during flights and unblock ears. These can also be purchased from chemists.
⦁ Antihistamines: can be taken ahead of time to reduce the amount of mucus you make.
⦁ Decongestants: can assist in relieving the blockage by drying up the nose. Both oral medication and nasal sprays can assist.
⦁ Over-the-counter pain relievers: can help control discomfort.
For me, I think I'll have to pack some chewing gum next time I fly.
This information is strictly to be used as a guide only; please consult for doctor or other professional health care provider for specific medical advice regarding your situation.
The most common cause of preventable hearing loss is from exposure to loud noises (this includes anything from machinery and loud music). The amount of exposure you have to a noise and the volume of it will influence how much of an impact it has on your ears long-term. The Australian standard for noise exposure is if you are exposed to noise at 85dB (decibels), then the time of exposure should be limited to no more than 8 hours. For every increase of 3dB in volume, exposure length is halved (eg at 88dB, exposure time should be no more than 4 hours). As a general rule, the louder the noise is, the less time you can spend exposed to it before it starts causing permanent damage.
The National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL) has created a tool to allow anyone to calculate their risk of developing a hearing impairment based on their lifestyle listening habits. For more information, visit knowyournoise.nal.gov.au. While this website should not replace clinical hearing assessments, it is useful to investigate your lifestyle and offers helpful tips on how to manage your listening risk.
What can we do to manage our listening risk? Hearing protection is important as your hearing needs to last you your lifetime. Reducing the volume of the sound source and exposure time you are around this noise can help reduce the impact it has on your hearing. Here at the Sydney Hearing Services clinics, we encourage everyone to be aware of their auditory surroundings and can provide personal hearing protection for a variety of uses.
Contact the clinic for more details or to arrange an appointment