Ear health overview

How can I prevent swimmer's ear?
To help prevent an outer ear infection, also known as swimmer's ear or, dry your ears well after swimming or showering. You can try using a hair dryer set on the lowest setting for a few minutes. Swimming caps will help prevent water getting into the ear while swimming. You can also use eardrops with acetic acid or alcohol after swimming to neutralize possible infections. If these measures don't work, contact your doctor.

What are the signs and symptoms of a middle ear infection?
The most common symptoms of middle ear infections are fever and pain. You may also have difficulty sleeping. When children and infants have an ear infection, they may become irritable, tug on their ear, or change their feeding or eating patterns.

Why didn't my child get prescribed an antibiotic for an ear infection?
If your child is not at high risk for complications of an ear infection and has mild symptoms, your doctor may not prescribe an antibiotic. Since many ear infections are caused by a virus - which won't be affected by antibiotics - and improve in a few days without treatment, your doctor may want to wait before prescribing an antibiotic. If your child's symptoms don't improve in a few days or if they get worse, then your doctor will likely prescribe an antibiotic.

What is labyrinthitis?
Labyrinthitis is inflammation of the inner ear. The inflammation in the inner ear can cause a spinning sensation called vertigo and can throw your balance off too. The cause of labyrinthitis is usually unknown, but viral infections have been linked to inner ear inflammation.

What can I do to prevent hearing loss?
Noise-induced hearing loss is one the most common causes of hearing loss. To prevent this, turn down the volume! If someone else can hear the music that is playing on your personal music player or someone has to shout for you to hear them, you're listening to music at a volume that can damage your ears. You can also protect your hearing by making sure your ears are protected when using power tools or if your line of work involves exposure to loud noise (e.g., construction).

How are infants tested for deafness?
Infants are all screened for hearing loss or deafness at birth. At this age, otoacoustic emissions testing (OAE) is used. OAE testing generates sounds within the ear and measuring the sound produced by the inner ear to see how well your inner ear is working.

If children do not do well on an OAE test, then auditory brain stem response (ABR) testing will be used. ABR is a non-invasive test that measures the function of hearing nerves. Electrodes are attached to various places on your head (e.g., ears, forehead) and earphones generate sounds. The electrodes pick up the activity of the hearing nerves.

What are the signs that my child has hearing problems?
If your child is not responding to noises, is not speaking clearly, or is not speaking at an expected age, he or she may have hearing problem. Contact your child's doctor for an assessment.

Are hearing loss and deafness permanent?
Some forms of hearing loss are permanent and others are not. Hearing loss is usually permanent when the inner ear or nerves of the ear are damaged. When hearing loss is caused by a blockage (e.g., from wax), fluid in the middle ear, or problems with the hearing bones, it is usually temporary and resolves or improves after treatment.

What is the best way to clean your ears?
Your ears are good at cleaning themselves, so you should never put anything in your ear - especially cotton swabs - to clean them. Using a cotton swab can actually push wax further into your ear and can scratch or damage the ear canal.

If you think your ears are blocked by wax, contact your doctor or pharmacist for advice on how to clean them. If your ears are healthy, you can try to clear the earwax by applying mineral oil a few times a day for a few days and then washing the wax out by gently squirting water into the ear canal with a rubber bulb syringe.

What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is when you hear a sound in your ear that is not actually present. The type of sound varies from person to person and can include ringing, buzzing, roaring, or hissing. If you think you have tinnitus, contact your doctor. Although no cause is found for most cases of tinnitus, sometimes the cause is an underlying medical problem that can be treated.