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Why Do My Ears Itch? | Causes of Ear Itching

Next to pain, itching is probably the most uncomfortable physical sensation we experience. It is annoying, distracting, and in some cases, absolutely maddening. When that itching occurs in a place we can’t reach, it can be difficult to find relief. Our ear canals are the most common place unreachable itching occurs, but most of us don’t give it much thought. Fortunately, most causes of deep ear itching are understood, and there are things we can do to alleviate or even prevent it.


What Causes Itching Sensations in the Ear?

DRY SKIN
In the outer ear, itching is rarely a notable issue, since we can easily rub or scratch that itch away. It is usually caused by dry skin or irritants that come into contact with the skin. It is no different than itching on any other exposed part of the body, but if it becomes a habitual nuisance, applying a bit of mineral oil or Vaseline to the affected area with a cotton swab can help rehydrate the skin and protect it from further irritation.

SKIN CONDITIONS
In addition to the superficial irritation of substances you come into contact with, two of the most common benign skin diseases, eczema and psoriasis, can also affect your ears. If scaling of the skin is present, one of these conditions will be suspected as the cause of your itching. Your hearing care provider and dermatologist can provide solutions.

ALLERGIES
In the inner parts of the ear, causes of itching become a little more complex. One of the most common culprits is allergies. The same histamine response that causes itchy hives on the skin, watery eyes, and sneezing can also cause the eustachian tube (the pathway that connects the ear to the throat) to become inflamed. Most of us will press on our tragus (that small flap of cartilaginous skin near the ear’s opening) and wiggle it vigorously to relieve this sensation, but the best home remedy is to take an antihistamine.

INFECTION
Almost everyone has suffered an ear infection at some point in our lives, and when we think back on this experience, it is usually the pain that we remember the most, but itching can also be an important indicator of bacterial buildup in the middle ear. If the itching you feel is persistent and intense, or is accompanied by a throbbing sensation or feeling of fullness, schedule an appointment with your audiologist or ENT to find out if infection is present. Treating it at this stage can save you from further discomfort down the road.

ANXIETY
You may be surprised to learn this, but simply being nervous, stressed, or feeling “on edge” can cause the ears to itch!


What Can I Do to Relieve Itching?

As mentioned above, medication is usually the best method to relieve persistent itching deep in the ear, but there are also some over-the-counter remedies you can try. Commercial ear drops that dissolve wax can clear the ear of buildup and debris and relieve itching. Taking a hot shower or sipping a hot cup of tea may also help, as the heat dilates blood vessels and improves circulation to the ears. An added benefit of this approach is that it is likely to relax you, which will reduce nervous itching.

Another useful remedy is placing a few drops of 70% rubbing alcohol in the ear. If this causes a burning sensation, that’s another sign of fungal or bacterial infection, which means a visit to your hearing care provider is in order. Even if an infection is not present, your provider may prescribe steroid drops to bring you relief.


Can I Prevent Itchy Ears?

The best way to prevent itching in any part of the ear is to practice good ear hygiene. While we are all tempted to clean our ears at home, this often does more harm than good. No foreign object should ever be inserted into the ear (this means cotton swabs, too!), because this pushes wax deeper into the canal, which can cause everything from painful blockages to that persistent itching we’re trying to avoid. Wax is actually a very important component of ear health; it keeps the inner ear waterproof and resistant to microbes. Gently washing the outer ear with a soft washcloth and warm water will rinse away any excess wax or debris and help keep dermatitis at bay.

If you wear earrings, make sure they are made of a hypoallergenic metal such as pure gold, sterling silver, or titanium, as some other metals (chiefly nickel) can react with the skin and cause itching.
Avoid getting excess water in your ears whenever possible. Swim with your head above the surface and consider wearing a shower cap while bathing. Additionally, switching to a shampoo formulated for sensitive skin can cut down on ear irritation.

When inserting hearing aids or earbuds, or any other device that fits into the ear, do so gently and carefully. It may seem like a small gesture, but anytime we place anything in or near the ear canal, we are potentially disrupting the ear’s natural defenses against invaders.

How to Wear BTE Hearing Aids and Glasses

As technology advances and “hearables” become more commonplace, one odd fact emerges: We’re putting more and more things behind or in our ears. Whether glasses, headphones, or the latest discreet behind-the-ear hearing device, the area our ears occupy is starting to get a little crowded.

So that begs the question: Can you wear (sun)glasses and the common BTE (behind-the-ear) hearing aid model comfortably and without worry?


Behind the Ear

With all the different hearing aid styles, you might wonder, “There are so many sleek and nearly invisible options on the market, why would someone choose a behind-the-ear model?”

It’s discreet. The great thing about today’s hearing technology? It’s all discreet now. The question is how far you want to go in your discretion. The BTE model tucks unobtrusively between your outer ear and your head. From the side, no one would even know it’s there. And even in the BTE family, there’s now the miniBTE, for an even slimmer profile.

It’s powerful. The BTE is ideal for moderate to severe hearing loss. Other types, such as in-the-canal and in-the-ear, have many strengths, but they may not be ideal for hearing loss greater than a mild to moderate loss.

It’s easy to use. The casing of the BTE is easier to hold and manipulate than the other styles, and it has simple-to-use, easily accessible controls.

It’s comfortable. Many feel the smaller models that sit against or in the ear canal create a plugged-up feeling. In fact, some people have ear canals that are too small to accommodate any model but the BTE.
 

The BTE With Glasses

The following will ensure you thrive with glasses and a BTE hearing aid.
Considerations

  • If you already have BTE hearing aids and have been told you need glasses: Buy frames with thin wire earpieces to minimize the amount of space taken up behind your ear.
  • If you already wear glasses and have been told you need BTE hearing aids: Work with your provider to determine the smallest tube that will work for your situation. A miniBTE might be an ideal option.

Practical tips

  • Put your glasses on first, as they are harder to adjust.
  • After your glasses are secure, carefully place the hearing aid between the glasses earpiece and your outer ear.
  • Adjust both as needed until they are comfortable and the hearing aid isn’t hanging away from your outer ear.
  • In front of a mirror but away from a hard surface, practice removing and putting on your glasses. Use both hands, and only use a straight-forward and straight-back motion. Tilting your glasses up and down or side to side will knock off your hearing aids.
  • Practice, practice, practice. It might sound silly, but muscle memory will be your best friend. While practicing, you’ll knock off your hearing aid, but each time it happens, you’ll learn a little more about the best method to use for your glasses/hearing aid combination. Better to knock them off at home, in a controlled environment and on carpeting, than not to practice at all and have it happen on the sidewalk, at work, or in the backyard.

We’re here to help — let us know if your BTE hearing devices aren’t cooperating with your glasses! And if you haven’t had your hearing checked in a while, contact us today to schedule a hearing evaluation.

My Tinnitus Has a Melody – Is That Possible? | Musical Ear Syndrome

My Tinnitus Has a Melody — Is That Possible?

You probably know someone who experiences tinnitus — a ringing, buzzing, pulsing, hissing, or humming with no external source. People often call it “ringing in the ears,” and it affects approximately 15% of the U.S. population, according to the American Tinnitus Association.

But did you know some people experience a form of tinnitus in which they hear actual melodies? It’s called musical ear syndrome (or musical tinnitus).

What Is Musical Ear Syndrome?

Musical ear syndrome (MES) is when someone hears music that has no external source. Some people hear a single instrument playing a simple melody; others hear several instruments playing a complex piece of music; and still others hear a voice singing, with or without accompaniment. The most common melodies, however, are hymns, Christmas carols, and patriotic music.

How is this different than when you can’t seem to get a piece of music out of your head? In the case of MES, the melody sounds like it’s coming from an obvious and specific direction, so it’s not clear that it’s internal. It sounds self-evidently external. That’s why, for many people, it can take a while to recognize what’s really going on.

What Causes Musical Ear Syndrome?

When you hear something, you’re experiencing a combination of sound input, interpretations by your brain, and predictions by your brain. Strong sound input reduces the amount of predicting required by your brain.

When you don’t get enough sound input, however, your brain has to do more predicting to make sense of the sound input it is receiving. The more severe the hearing loss, the more the auditory deprivation, and the greater the need for the brain to fill in the gaps. The most common hypothesis about what causes MES is, in layman’s terms, that the brain gets bored through sensory deprivation and starts to generate sound by itself.

Is Musical Ear Syndrome Common?

The few studies published in journals suggest only about 20% of those with tinnitus experience musical ear syndrome — that means about 3% of the general population. It’s most likely underreported, however, because those experiencing MES worry that if they tell someone, they’ll seem mentally unstable.

In fact, Dr. Neil Bauman, who coined the term musical ear syndrome and has been raising awareness about the condition for many years, has heard from so many people affected by MES that he suspects the number is higher than 10% of the general population!

Though tinnitus is more prevalent in men, MES appears to be more prevalent in women.

Is There a Cure?

MES is even less understood than tinnitus. But like tinnitus, there are some ways you can minimize its effects.

Awareness.

For many people, a great deal of stress and anxiety is alleviated when they can put a name to what they’re experiencing. Knowing others experience it also provides relief — it’s nice to know you’re not alone in your MES.

Stress management.

Stress has been shown to make symptoms worse, so finding ways to minimize your stress might minimize the severity of your MES. For example, deep breathing can relax your body, but it also pulls your attention away from the MES, allowing it to fade into the background. Some patients have also had success with cognitive behavioral therapy.

Bring more sound to your environment.

MES is a product of sound deprivation — give your brain plenty to listen to! If you don’t have hearing aids, get some. If you have hearing aids, be sure to wear them as much as possible. Get out in nature and socialize more. Natural sounds and conversations are ideal stimulation for a bored brain.

Adjust your medication.

MES has been reported as a side effect for almost 300 medications, both common and little known. Don’t make any changes on your own, though — consult your doctor if you suspect the MES is a side effect of a current medication.


Musical ear syndrome is real, and it’s more common than you realize. If you or someone you love suspects they have tinnitus — musical or otherwise — contact us today for a consultation!

How Prevalent Really is Hearing Loss Among Americans and Canadians?

How many people in your life have hearing difficulties? One person? Two people? A handful? No one? The actual number is quite possibly more than you think, because hearing loss — the inability or reduced ability to perceive sounds that enter the ear — is much more common than many realize.

In the United States and Canada together, for example, millions of people live with hearing loss. Numbers may vary per organization, government agency, or study, but:

In both countries, hearing loss also represents one of the top chronic physical conditions — even, in the case of the United States, ahead of diabetes or cancer. It’s a growing concern affecting children and adults, including approximately 34 million youth worldwide. In fact, it’s one of the most common birth defects in Canada and possibly the most common one in the U.S.
 

The good news?

Most hearing loss can be effectively managed with solutions such as hearing aids, helping you stay connected to the people, places, and experiences that matter most.
 

The bad news?

Only a fraction of those who could benefit from hearing help actually seek or receive it, making hearing loss an undertreated issue.
 
Even worse, hearing loss not only impacts communication but can go hand in hand with other problems such as social isolation, depression, diabetes, dementia, heart disease, and risk of falls.


FEBRUARY IS HEART MONTH

Did you know? Like hearing loss, cardiovascular disease — including heart disease and stroke — is a global public-health challenge. It’s the No. 1 killer worldwide, with nearly 18 million deaths annually per World Health Organization estimates, and is linked to hearing loss.

Precisely how cardiovascular disease and hearing loss are connected isn’t yet conclusive in all cases, but researchers have found, for example, that those with heart disease are 54 percent more likely to experience a hearing loss — even more so if they’ve suffered a heart attack.

Some risk factors such as age, gender, and family history can’t be helped, but healthy choices such as the following can make a difference in helping prevent either condition:

  • Avoiding tobacco
  • Following a healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Getting regular hearing and overall checkups

Take it to heart, and spread the word!

Are Portable Music Players Putting Your Ears at Risk?

Turn the Music Up, Dude — But Not Past 85 Decibels

You probably use your tablet or smartphone often to stream music, TV shows, or movies. In fact, many websites these days auto-play videos regardless of whether you want them to.

Smartphones, tablets, and other types of portable music players (PMPs) are now commonplace, as are earbuds and headphones. But if your PMP is turned up too loud while wearing earbuds or headphones, you can damage your hearing quickly. Let’s look at why.

NIHL

This isn’t some new sports league — NIHL stands for noise-induced hearing loss, and it’s the second-largest cause of hearing loss worldwide.

You’re able to hear because of hair cells in your inner ear. These cells convert sound signals to electrical signals and send them to your brain, where they’re interpreted as sounds. But loud sounds can actually damage or destroy your hair cells.

Every time a hair cell gets damaged, you lose a little bit of your ability to hear, and that damage can’t be repaired. The result is NIHL.

How Headphones Hurt Your Hearing

Navigating noise is all about the decibels (a measure of sound pressure). You’re safe if the sound in question stays below 85 decibels (dB); above that, you’re in the action zone — protect your ears or risk hearing damage.

For comparison:

  • A clothes dryer = 60 dB
    No need for hearing protection
  • A gas lawn mower = 91 dB
    Exposure can damage hearing in 2 hours
  • A tractor =100 dB
    Exposure can damage hearing in 15 minutes
  • A chain saw = 112 dB
    Exposure can damage hearing in less than 1 minute

Some PMPs can generate 112 dB — in other words, if you like to listen to your PMP at full volume, you’re likely pumping a chain saw’s worth of noise at your ears from centimeters away.

Why Protecting Your Hearing Matters

Hearing loss is connected to overall health in surprising ways. It’s been linked to depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cognitive decline, dementia, and other health concerns.

But it’s not just a concern for later in life: One study found that any degree of hearing loss early in life increases a child’s risk for language and learning problems.

Considering that one study of PMP use in 9-to 11-year-olds reported that 9 in 10 children and teens use some form of audio-streaming device for education or recreation, PMPs pose a considerable hearing health risk at all ages.

Indeed, that same study found that 14 percent of the children had measurable hearing loss. In addition, if a child listened to their PMP only once or twice a week, it doubled their chances of hearing loss compared to children who didn’t use a PMP.

What You Can Do

  • Enforce the 60/60 rule. Don’t turn the volume of your PMPs up past 60 percent of full volume, and turn the device off completely after listening for 60 minutes so your ears can have a break.
  • Use headphones instead of earbuds. With earbuds, you pick up background noise, which often leads to turning up the volume on the PMP to hear the audio better. Headphones that surround the ear keep the background noise to a minimum, allowing you to leave the volume at or below 60 percent. Even better, invest in noise-canceling headphones.
  • If you must use earbuds, make them in-ear earbuds. With these earbuds, the earpiece sits inside the ear canal, rather than just outside it. The sleeve around the speaker blocks out background noise and keeps your audio from escaping the ear canal.
  • Use the sound limiter built into the PMP. Many devices allow you to limit how loud the volume goes, or the device has a built-in alert telling you you’re risking hearing damage by pushing the volume higher.
  • For kids, get volume-limiting headphones. Though there are many child-friendly options for headphones that will keep the volume from going over 85, it’s best to read up on whichever pair you choose to buy. Research by Wirecutter found that, of more than 30 brands tested, almost half were not effective at keeping the volume below 85 dB.

How Are Smoking and Hearing Loss Related?

Smoking can damage your hearing. If you’re one of the 40 million U.S. adults who smokes cigarettes find out why it may be time to get a hearing test.

The connection between smoking and heart disease, cancer, and respiratory problems gets all the attention, but the effects of smoking on hearing have long been known. If you’re one of the 40 million U.S. adults who smokes cigarettes — or someone who lives with a smoker — read on to find out how smoking is linked to hearing loss.

Some Facts

How does smoking affect hearing?

  • Compared to nonsmokers, smokers have a 70% greater chance of developing hearing loss.
  • Nonsmokers are twice as likely to develop hearing loss if they live with a smoker.
  • The greater your daily average of cigarettes, the greater your risk of developing hearing loss.
  • Mothers who smoke during pregnancy increase their child’s risk for developing speech-language problems.
  • If you work around high levels of occupational noise, smoking increases your risk of noise-induced hearing loss.
  • Adolescents exposed to secondhand smoke are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop hearing loss — and they usually aren’t even aware of it.

Some Culprits

Different studies have reported different suggestions for how smoking damages hearing. Here are some common culprits.

Eustachian tube

Your eustachian tube runs from your middle ear to the back of your throat. It equalizes the pressure in your ears, and it drains the mucous created by the lining of your middle ear. Smoking leads to problems — and even blockages — in the eustachian tube, causing pressure buildup and hearing loss.

Blood Pressure

Smoking impacts your blood pressure. What does that have to do with your hearing? The structures in your inner ear depend on good, sturdy blood flow. When your blood pressure changes, your inner ear has difficulty processing sound. In pregnant women, smoking restricts blood flow — and, therefore, the oxygen supply — to the fetus. The developing inner ear doesn’t get enough oxygen, so it develops more slowly and could lead to speech-language problems later.

Neurotransmitters

Neurotransmitters are messengers that carry information between the cells in your body. Nicotine interferes with how your body regulates a key neurotransmitter — one that is crucial for transporting sound information from your inner ear to your brain. This means your brain isn’t getting enough sound input, so it has a harder time making sense of the sounds you hear.

Central nervous system

The parts of your central nervous system that create your ability to hear are still developing in late adolescence. This system is easily damaged by toxins — such as nicotine — during its development, which could explain the prevalence among adolescents of hearing loss due to secondhand smoke.


Though hearing loss caused by smoking can’t be reversed, it’s never too late to quit smoking to avoid further damage to your hearing. Contact us to schedule an appointment to get your hearing tested!
 
 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking & Tobacco Use: Data and Statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/index.htm. Accessed July 31, 2018. Cruickshanks KJ, et al. Cigarette Smoking and Hearing Loss: The Epidemiology of Hearing Loss Study. JAMA. 1998;279(21):1715–1719. Katbamna B. Effects of Smoking on the Auditory System. Audiology Online. October 2008, article 899. https://www.audiologyonline.com/articles/effects-smoking-on-auditory-system-899. Tao L, et al. Effect of Cigarette Smoking on Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Workers Exposed to Occupational Noise in China. Noise Health. 2013;15(62):67–72. Pezzoli M, et al. Effects of Smoking on Eustachian Tube and Hearing. Int Tinnitus J. 2017;21(2):98–103.

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Hearing loss and Cochlear Implants

Many patients ask if they have enough hearing loss to qualify for a cochlear implant. That can only be determined by a thorough diagnostic hearing evaluation. If a patient’s hearing loss reaches a severe level (which some insurances have certain required levels of severity of hearing loss), then the patient would need to meet with a surgeon to determine if they are a surgical candidate for implantation. If a patient is implanted, we do follow up implant mapping (programming) at our location.

Is Tinnitus Affecting Your Brain’s Emotional Processes?

Anyone afflicted with the annoying ringing and hissing of tinnitus is well aware of the stress, anxiety, and irritability that accompany these phantom noises — but could tinnitus alter an individual’s emotional processing altogether? Research on the subject from the University of Illinois suggests this may be the case.

Using MRI scans to show which areas of the brain respond to various auditory stimuli, researchers found that when compared with normal-hearing people, those with tinnitus showed less activity in the amygdala — a region of the brain associated with emotional processing — but more activity in two other regions associated with emotion.

The findings suggested to researchers that the amygdala in those who suffer from tinnitus had become less active because the brain had adjusted to the tinnitus. In other words, the amygdala couldn’t be active all the time due to the annoying sound, and perhaps other areas of the brain became more active to make up for that reduced activity. This may have translated to an altered emotional state because of the difference in how the brain was processing emotions.

For many, tinnitus relief can be found through a treatment called masking. The technique involves using white noise (either natural or artificial) to cover the sounds of the tinnitus, allowing you to focus more on the sounds of the world around you.

Please call our office at 918.333.9992 to schedule a free clean and check, and we’ll show you how a new hearing system might help you find the relief you seek with a technology demonstration. Put your tinnitus to rest — call to schedule your appointment today!

Sincerely,

Dr. Stephanie R. Moore
Audiologist

Better Hearing Q&A: Is There A Link Between Hearing Loss And Dementia?

Phrenology1Our patients always have great questions about hearing and hearing technology. We feel it’s our obligation as the community’s only AudigyCertifiedTM hearing professionals to provide you more than exceptional hearing care and technology recommendations; we are here to give you the informative answers you’re looking for so you can confidently make educated decisions about your hearing health.

Q: I’ve heard that there’s a link between hearing loss and dementia—is this true?

A: What an important question. This subject has been in the news quite a bit lately. For years researchers have suspected a connection between hearing loss and dementia, but just this year a study funded by the National Institutes of Health determined that a mild hearing loss of 25 decibels (dB) can increase the development of cognitive problems by 30% to 40%.

When asked for an explanation of the cognitive decline, Frank Lin—Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine otologist and assistant professor, and the study’s lead author—offered as possible contributing factors the combination of social isolation and the extra mental effort it takes to understand sounds.

Dementia is on the rise in the U.S. with over 4 million affected by the malady, and recent estimates place the cost on families and society at $157 billion to $215 billion a year, making it more expensive than cancer and heart disease.

Hearing should become a regular part of the conversation during general health exams, and regular hearing evaluations the norm, in order to delay the onset of cognitive decline.

While hearing aids aren’t a cure for the effects of dementia, appropriately fit hearing technology is designed to alleviate the energy required to understand sounds, and to decrease feelings of isolation by reengaging people with the world around them through better hearing.

Diabetes and Hearing Loss

Original post from The Hearing Care Blog

human-ear-listening-hearing-263654721Diabetics at Greater Risk for Hearing Loss

People with diabetes are usually aware of their increased risk of kidney, cardiovascular, and visual disorders. However, most diabetics don’t know they are more than twice as likely to have hearing loss as those without the disease. And the risk is greater among younger diabetics than older.

Younger Diabetics at Greater Risk

A recent study in Japan was published in November 2012 in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Led by Chika Horikawa, the team examined data from 13 previous studies published between 1977 and 2011. Their conclusion? Not only were diabetics 2.15 times as likely as others to have hearing loss, but those under age 60 had 2.61 times the risk while those over 60 had 1.58. In a related study by the National Institutes of Health, it was shown that more than 40% of people with diabetes had some degree of hearing loss.

Link Between Diabetes and Hearing Loss

The link between diabetes and hearing loss is not yet fully understood. Some think that high blood sugar levels may damage the blood vessels in the ears. Others caution that certain medications commonly used by diabetic patients, such as diuretics, may be a contributing factor. Though more research is needed in order to understand the connection between diabetes and hearing loss, according to Horikawa, “these results propose that diabetic patients are screened for hearing impairment from an earlier age compared with nondiabetics,” particularly because untreated hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of dementia and depression. For more information regarding diabetes, visit the American Diabetes Association website.

Gloria Boms, AuD

About the Author

Gloria Boms, AuD has been a licensed audiologist since 1978. Dr. Boms began her professional career at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, NY where she specialized in pediatric audiology. She began working in private practice serving both children and adults in 1984, and her practice has been located in Great Neck since 1997. Dr. Boms is a Fellow of the American Academy of Audiology, a Fellow of the Academy of Dispensing Audiologists, and a member of the American Auditory Society and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.