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5 Summertime Tips for Healthy Ears

Experts explain how to avoid ear problems that are triggered by everything from swimming to loud music.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Everyone has heard of swimmer's ear -- but there are other "ears" you don't want this summer, such as "music-lover's ear" and "unpressurized ear." Experts gave WebMD five tips for keeping your ears healthy -- over the summer and year-round.

No. 1: Don't Blast Your Inner Ear With Music

According to a Zogby International poll reported in March by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 28% of high-schoolers say they have to turn up the volume to hear the television. A similar number (29%) report saying "huh" or "what" a lot during conversations. A smaller, but significant number (17%) say they have experienced tinnitustinnitus, or ringing in the ears.

Other symptoms of hearing damage from personal entertainment devices include thinking that other people are speaking in a "muffled" way.

These are symptoms older people get, not kids. Until now.

The earbuds on MP3 players funnel the sound waves directly into the ear.

Long-term exposure to high volume levels can gradually wear out the tiny hair cells of the inner ear that convert sound into nerve signals that go to the brain.

Hearing loss can also be caused by age, disease, infections, drugs, trauma, and genetics. Or it can occur with sudden exposure -- or a very few exposures -- to severely loud sounds (like an explosion).

Occasionally music slamming into the ear from earbuds can be 100 decibels. "The rule of thumb," Bruce R. Maddern, MD, chair of the otolaryngology section of the American Academy of Pediatrics, tells WebMD, "is if an observer can hear the device, it's too loud."

"If it's that loud," Maddern adds, "you also can't hear a car coming at you."

Hearing loss from noise usually accumulates over time and does not happen all at once.

Richard M. Rosenfeld, MD, professor of otolaryngology at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., offers the following advice:

  • Take breaks if you must listen to music through earbuds. "An iPod at 60 is safe for an hour a day," he says.
  • Check out noise-reducing headphones. That way, you don't have to crank up the music volume to cancel out party noise or beach shouts.
  • Don't stand or sit right next to a speaker at a party or concert.
  • Parents should note: Do not let your child fall asleep with earbuds in. Make sure their devices are set at 60 or lower.

Incidentally, 60 decibels is the level of normal conversation. A power lawn mower can generate 90 decibels, a chainsaw or rock concert 110-140, and a 12-gauge shotgun 165 decibels.

No. 2: Don't Go Overboard Cleaning Your Ears

Earwax may look unsightly, but it is designed to protect the ear. When it migrates to the outside, you can clean it off with a washcloth.

"Every package of [swabs] says not to insert into the ear!" cautions Rosenfeld. "Sticking something in your ear canal to get out wax can push the wax farther in and compact it."

If your ear is impacted with ear wax, see your doctor who can safely clear it out for you.

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