The Fantastic Antidepressant That You Should Get for Your Ears

Man suffering from hearing loss covering his ears with his hands while noises are all around him.

There is a complicated link between hearing and mood that tends to go unnoticed. A 2014 study conducted by researchers at The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) suggests a strong correlation exists between loss of hearing and mood disorders with both often going untreated.

What that indicates for those with some hearing loss, whether they know it or not, is that the decrease in their hearing directly impacts their mood. Keeping that in mind means it is safe to conclude that hearing enhancement devices like hearing aids might be just what you need to fight depression.

The Study

The scientists working with The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders looked at data taken from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to find a connection between certain mood disorders and hearing loss for those participants over the age of 18. This lead to some interesting facts:

  • Moderate to severe depression rates were around 4.9 percent for those with good hearing.
  • Moderate to severe depression rates were around 11.4 percent for those with some hearing loss.
  • The rate of depression increased as hearing declined but did not change for those already deaf.
  • Women over the age of 70 found to have reduced hearing through professional hearing exams did experience depression.
  • Men over the age of 70 did not experience depression despite their hearing loss.

This study allowed researchers to conclude that a loss in hearing for those over the age of 70 didn’t really factor into depression for the male population but did seem to impact the women. The young adults who reported some level of hearing loss were also more prone to depression regardless of gender.

Why Hearing Loss Can Lead to Depression

There are a number of theories out there to answer this question but the most likely one is more common sense than science. Simply put, finding yourself with hearing loss can trigger mood swings and depression because:

  • Most forms of hearing loss are permanent. Once a person loses their hearing due to trauma, disease or just aging, that damage is done. The components that let you hear are very delicate and there is no proven way to fix most of them. Hearing aids provide a workable solution, but it is not a permanent one.
  • Hearing loss leads to isolation. People start to avoid social situations when they have an untreated hearing loss. They might think they are too dumb to understand the conversation or maybe they are not ready to admit they have a problem hearing. Studies show that social isolation is a risk factor for dementia, as well, as depression.
  • Hearing loss causes stress. A person suffering from hearing loss is suddenly unable to enjoy things the same way they used to like watching TV. Turning the volume up just irritates family members and the neighbors. They have a hard time interpreting words, as well. Sounds tend to drop out making words hard to distinguish and that stress can quickly turn to sadness and, eventually, depression.

How Hearing Aids Help

The NIDCD believes most people over the age of 70 would benefit from having hearing aids just to compensate for the age-related hearing loss. According to the institute, only one in three people who could benefit from hearing assistance actually have a proper diagnosis of the hearing loss and hearing aids. The reasons for not getting hearing aids vary from the cost to not wanting to admit there is a problem. Those people struggle to get through life, so it’s no wonder they get depressed.

A study for the National Council on Aging found that those individuals that do see a doctor, get a professional hearing test and then wear hearing aids are 50 percent less likely to become depressed.

Getting hearing aids improves the quality of life. If you know you have problems hearing, then make an appointment to see your doctor and get a hearing test. You’ll be surprised how much better you will feel once you start hearing again.

How Those Good Lifestyle Choices Do Totally Benefit Your Hearing?

Woman is protecting herself from hearing loss by being healthy outdoors.

You workout regularly and watch your diet just to stay healthy but shouldn’t that apply to your hearing too? Many people see a loss of hearing as a something that happens naturally due to aging but fail to take it into account how bad habits affect it. The hearing sense is one the most important you have and what you do now does matter if you want to keep it. Everything from eating fast food to refusing to give up the cigarettes to hitting the couch for hours at a time contributes to changes in the hearing related to aging. It’s time to make some positive choices by considering preventative measures that benefit your heart and hearing at the same time.

Regular Workouts

Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your entire body including your ears. A 2009 study conducted by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) determined there is a connection between heart health and the gradual hearing loss associated with aging. They found that heart disease was a factor in hearing loss very late in life and failure to exercise leads to cardiovascular disease.

A 2013 study published in The American Journal of Medicine looked at how body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and physical activity factored into the hearing equation. They were able to conclude that the better fit you are, the better your chance of keeping your hearing. Even the American Journal of Audiology identified a direct link between cardiovascular health and hearing function. With that much proof on hand, it’s clear that sitting on the couch day after day will cost you in many ways, so start a regular workout schedule or, at least, find time to take a walk most days of the week.

Balanced Diet

There is a reason mom said you are what you eat. There is a certain nutritional aspect to maintaining ear health. Omega 3 fatty acids, for instance, are deemed healthy foods good for the heart but studies show they also help protect you against age-related hearing loss. Look to get some omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish like salmon.

While you are at it, make sure to get your green on, too. Spinach, broccoli and asparagus are all rich in folic acid, an antioxidant known for reducing nerve damage including the kind that affects the one that connects the ears to the brain. Add some magnesium found in bananas and artichokes to your diet and you are eating your way to good ear health.

Eating to Prevent Chronic Disease

When it comes to diet, focusing on other parts of the body is just as beneficial. Preventing chronic diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes also protects your hearing. You might be surprised what foods can help fight disease like:

  • Wine – Red wine is good for the heart in moderation. Keep it to one glass a day.
  • Cocoa – You know, the stuff chocolate is made from, a small amount daily will improve your brain health without blowing your diet.
  • Almonds – They make a good high-protein snack with lots of crunch and help lower cholesterol levels for better heart and brain health. Limit yourself to just a few, though. They pack a lot of calories.

While meal planning, find ways to cut the salt. Excess salt leads to water retention and higher blood pressure.

Sound Hygiene

Of course, there are things you need to do just for your ears when focusing on your health. Sound hygiene refers to protecting your ears from sounds that can cause damage. Avoid wearing headphones or earbuds to listen to music or talk on the phone. They introduce sound directly into the ear canal. By the time it reaches the delicate mechanisms of the inner ear, it is amplified enough to wreak havoc. If you are going out for the night to hear a band or dance, wear ear protection to prevent the loud noise from causing ear trauma.

Get Quality Sleep

If you need eight hours a night, then make you get them. See a doctor if you think you might sleep apnea, as well. Sleep apnea is often a sign of an underlying problem like will affect the ears like poor circulation or inflammation. Research suggests that those with untreated sleep apnea most likely have hearing problems, especially with low and high-frequency sounds.

Learn to live right and your ears will thank you. If you already think you have hearing problems, now is the time to see your doctor for a professional hearing exam and test.

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How Could It Seem As If That Crazy Sound in My Ears Gets Worse at Night?

Woman can't sleep because ringing in her ears. Her tinnitus is keeping her up at night.

If you are one of the 25 million people in the U.S. with a medical condition called tinnitus, usually ringing in the ears, then you probably know that it tends to get worse when you are trying to fall asleep, but why? The ringing in one or both ears is not a real noise but a complication of a medical issue like hearing loss, either permanent or temporary. Of course, knowing what it is will not explain why you have this ringing, buzzing or swishing noise more often at night.

The truth is more common sense than you might think. To know why your tinnitus increases as you try to sleep, you need to understand the hows and whys of this very common medical problem.

What is Tinnitus?

To say tinnitus is not a real sound just adds to the confusion, but, for most people, that is true. It’s a noise no one else can hear and does not happen of a real sound close to your ear. The individual lying next to you in bed can’t hear it even if it sounds like a tornado to you.

Tinnitus alone is not a disease or condition, but a sign that something else is wrong. It is typically associated with significant hearing loss. For many, tinnitus is the first sign they get that their hearing is at risk. Hearing loss tends to be gradual, so they do not notice it until that ringing or buzzing starts. This phantom noise works like a flag to warn you of a change in how you hear.

What Causes Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is one of medical sciences biggest conundrums. Doctors do not have a clear understanding of why it happens, only what it usually means. It is a symptom of a number of medical problems including inner ear damage. The inner ear contains many tiny hair cells designed to move in response to sound waves. Tinnitus often means there is damage to those hair cells, enough to keep them from sending electrical messages to the brain. These electrical messages is how the brain translates sound into something you can clearly comprehend like a car horn or person talking.

The current theory about tinnitus has to do with the silence or a lack of sound. The brain works hard to interpret sound through these messages, but when they don’t come, it is confusing. To compensate, your brain fills that that lack of sound with the ringing or buzzing noise of tinnitus.

The need for feedback from the ears does explain a few things related to tinnitus. For one, it tells you why that sound is a symptom of such a variety of illnesses that affect hearing from a mild ear infection to age-related hearing loss. It also explains why the volume goes up at night for some people.

Why Does Tinnitus Get Worse at Night?

Unless you are profoundly deaf, your ear picks up some sounds during the day whether you realize it or not. It hears very faintly the music or the TV playing in the room. At the very least, you hear your own voice, but that all stops at night when you try to go to sleep.

Suddenly, all the sound disappears and the level of confusion in the brain rises in response. It only knows one thing to do when faced with total silence – create noise even if it’s not real.

In other words, tinnitus gets worse at night because it’s too quiet. Creating sound is the solution for those who can’t sleep because their ears are ringing.

How to Create Noise at Night

If you accept that tinnitus increases at night because there is no distracting noise to keep the brain busy, the answer is clear – create some. For some people suffering from tinnitus, all they need is a fan running in the background. Just the noise of the motor is enough to quiet the ringing.

There is also a device made to help those with tinnitus get to sleep. White noise machines simulate environmental sounds like rain or ocean waves. The soft noise soothes the tinnitus but isn’t distracting enough to keep you awake like leaving the TV on might do.

Can Anything Else Increase Tinnitus?

It’s important to keep in mind that the lack of sound is only one thing that can cause an upsurge in your tinnitus. It tends to get worse when you are under stress and certain medical problems can lead to a flare-up, too, like high blood pressure. If introducing sound into your nighttime routine doesn’t help or you feel dizzy when the ringing is active, it’s time to see the doctor.

The Unique Problems of Single-Sided Deafness

Man suffering from single-sided hearing loss is only experiencing one half of the world because he can't hear the other.

Single sided deafness, or unilateral hearing loss, is much more widespread than people realize, notably in kids.Because of this, the average person sees hearing loss as being binary — somebody has typical hearing in both ears or reduced hearing on both sides, but that dismisses one particular kind of hearing loss entirely.

A 1998 study thought that around 400,000 children had a unilateral hearing loss due to trauma or disease at the time. It’s safe to say this amount has increased in that last two decades.

What’s Single-Sided Hearing Loss and What Makes It?

As the name implies, single-sided hearing loss suggests a decrease in hearing just in one ear.In intense instances, profound deafness is potential.

Reasons for premature hearing loss differ. It may be caused by trauma, for example, someone standing beside a gun firing on the left may end up with profound or moderate hearing loss in that ear. A disorder can lead to this issue, as well, such as:

  • Measles
  • Acoustic neuroma
  • Meningitis
  • Waardenburg syndrome
  • Mastoiditis
  • Microtia
  • Mumps

No matter the cause, an individual who has unilateral hearing must adapt to a different way of processing audio.

Direction of the Audio

The mind uses the ears nearly like a compass. It identifies the direction of noise based on which ear registers it first and at the highest volume. When a person speaks to you while standing on the left, the brain sends a signal to turn in that way.

Together with the single-sided hearing loss, the noise is only going to come in one ear regardless of what direction it comes from. In case you have hearing in the left ear, then your head will turn left to look for the sound even when the person speaking is on the right.

Pause for a second and consider what that would be like. The audio would always enter one side regardless of where what direction it comes from. How would you understand where an individual speaking to you is standing? Even if the hearing loss isn’t deep, sound direction is tricky.

Focusing on Sound

The mind also employs the ears to filter out background sound. It tells one ear, the one closest to the sound you want to focus on, to listen to a voice. Your other ear handles the background noises. That is precisely why at a noisy restaurant, you can still focus on the conversation at the dining table.

Without that tool, the mind gets confused. It’s not able to filter out background noises like a fan blowing, so that is everything you hear.

The mind has a lot happening at any given time but having use of two ears enables it to multitask. That is why you’re able to sit and examine your social media sites while watching Netflix or having a conversation. With just one working ear, the mind loses the ability to do one thing while listening. It has to prioritize between what you hear and what you see, so you usually miss out on the dialogue around you while you browse your newsfeed.

The Head Shadow Effect

The head shadow effect describes how certain sounds are inaccessible to an individual with a unilateral hearing loss. Low tones have extended frequencies so they bend enough to wrap round the mind and reach the working ear. High pitches have shorter wavelengths and don’t survive the trek.

If you are standing beside an individual having a high pitched voice, you might not understand what they say unless you flip so the good ear is on their side. On the other hand, you may hear somebody with a deep voice just fine no matter what side they’re on because they produce longer sound waves that make it to either ear.

Individuals with only slight hearing loss in just one ear have a tendency to accommodate. They learn fast to turn their mind a certain way to listen to a buddy speak, for instance. For people who battle with single-sided hearing loss, a hearing aid may be work round that returns their lateral hearing to them.

How Do I Know Whether I Have Hearing Loss?

A man is unable to hear or see and is surrounded by question marks.

It may seem like it would be obvious, but hearing loss can be slow, so how can someone know they have it? There is no darting pain to serve as a warning signal. You do not pass out or make a few more trips to the toilet when it happens, either. It’s safe to say the signs of hearing loss are somewhat more subtle than other age-related illnesses like diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

Nevertheless, there are indications if you know what to look for. It’s a matter of paying attention to the way you hear and the effect any change could be having in your life. Consider some ways you’re able to identify hearing loss for you or someone you love.

Conversation is Harder

The effect on socialization provides some of the most telling indications. For instance, if the first word from your mouth during most conversations is “what?” That should be a sign you aren’t comprehending words easily. Asking the people that you speak to repeat what they said is something they are very likely to detect before you do, too, so pay attention to the way people react to having a chat with you.

When talking in a group of a couple of people, you may have trouble following along. You’re missing bits of what everybody says, so you aren’t part of the conversation. You can’t ask everybody speaking to repeat themselves, either, so you just get lost. As time passes, you avoid group discussions or stand there not understanding what is said, because it’s just too confusing once you do.

The Little Everyday Sounds Takes Over

If the only thing you hear these days is background sound, then it is time for a hearing test. This is a common sign of hearing loss because you’re not able to filter out sounds like a fan blowing or an air conditioner operating. It gets to the point where you can’t hear what folks are saying for you because it becomes lost in the background sound.

The TV Volume Creeps Up and Up and Up

It is simple to excuse the need to turn the TV volume up on that tired set because of a noisy area, but if it occurs all the time, it’s most likely a sign of gradual hearing loss. When everyone else starts complaining that you’ve got the TV or computer volume up too high, you need to wonder why that is, and, likely, conclude that your hearing isn’t as good as it was at one time.

You End up Watching Their Mouth

Reading lips is a coping mechanism for missing words. Gradual hearing loss begins with the loss of hard sounds. Words which contain specific letters will probably be incomplete. Your brain might automatically refocus your eyes on the individual’s lips to repair the problem. Chances are you don’t even understand you do it before someone tells you or suddenly looks uncomfortable when speaking to you.

The Buzz in Your Ear

The constant clicking or buzzing or the sound of wind in your ears — this is called tinnitus, and it’s an indication of significant hearing loss. These sounds are not real, but auditory hallucinations that just you hear. For many folks, they are only annoying, but for many others tinnitus is painful. If you have it, then you most certainly have hearing loss that you need to address.

Hearing problems aren’t always evident to the individual experiencing them, but it is to others. Listen to what your family is telling you about your hearing. Consider, also, other medical issues that may contribute to the problem like hypertension or medication you take that could harm your ears and find out if age-related hearing loss runs in your family.

If you do come to that conclusion, see your doctor and get a professional hearing test for affirmation. Hearing loss is not the worst health issue you could have, but for most, it does imply it is time to think about hearing aids.

Might Your Seasonal Allergies Mean Some Hearing Loss?

Woman with allergies turned, so her ear is facing the viewer.

 

Each new year and every new season brings with it the stuffy nose and itchy eyes that means allergies, but does that also mean you’ll have hearing loss? It might surprise you to know there is a connection for many people. You don’t necessarily associate hearing with the immune system, after all. It is not that simple. Your hearing is a complex sense, one that can be affected by an allergic reaction. So, what should you do if your allergies affect your hearing?

Understanding Allergies

An allergic reaction is part of body’s internal security plan managed by the immune system. It monitors different areas to detect intruders such as an infection. When bacteria gets in, the immune system works to fight it off. It also creates a special tag, known as an antibody, that marks this invader for future reference.

Let’s say a family member exposes you to the flu virus. If you have had the same strain before, an antibody allows the immune system to recognize it and respond. It will release histamine — the ground troops that fight off invaders — and that typically means inflammation of some kind. In the case of the flu, your sinus cavities and mucous membranes might swell in an attempt to trap the virus.

The problem is the immune system is far from perfect. Sometimes harmless substances like dust or pollen get an antibody in error. Once flagged, they will always seem like a threat. That’s an allergy. For allergy sufferers, this means everytime you come in contact with this allergen — that’s the dust or pollen — there is an immune system response. By definition, an allergy means you are hypersensitive to something that is harmless to most people.

Seasonal Allergies and Hearing Loss

Each year millions of people in this U.S. seek treatment for seasonal allergies. The other symptoms like congestion might keep them suffering enough that they fail to notice a change in their hearing. The ears rely on sound waves reaching a nerve in the inner ear, so they can be translated into something the brain can understand and allergies interfere with that process.

An allergic response typically leads to swelling and congestion. They, in turn, change the fluid pressure and prevent sound from traveling to the inner ear. You might notice pressure or a sense of fullness in the ears when that happens. The body produces more earwax in response to an allergy, too, creating a buildup that blocks sound.

The Skin and Allergies

An allergic response can affect the skin with swelling and an itchy rash, too. The ear has a considerable amount of skin that is at risk when allergies hit. There is the skin that covers the outer ear, known as the pinna, for example. The ear canal is covered with skin that can swell and itch enough to close the passage and prevent sound waves from moving forward.

Allergies and the Middle Ear

The middle ear is the area most often affected by an allergic reaction, though. This sensitive region contains tubes that allow fluid to drain and control the pressure inside the ear. An allergy can close the tubes allowing fluid and pressure to build, making it hard to hear.

How to Recognize Allergy-Related Hearing Loss

If you are one of the millions of people with seasonal allergies, these symptoms will be familiar:

  • Itching inside the ear canal
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Fullness inside the ear
  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)

When added to already existing conductive hearing loss, you can be left unable to hear.

Any time the hearing changes suddenly, consider seeing a doctor, especially if you don’t usually have allergies. That change might be the first sign of a lasting medical problem like high blood pressure or diabetes. If allergies are a way of life for you, however, then treating them is probably all it will take to get your hearing back.

Will You Better Guard Your Hearing By Being Picky About Your Plate?

A plate of healthy foods that can prevent or reduce hearing loss..

Does what eat count when it comes to protecting your hearing? One thing doctors know for sure is that nutrition is critical for just about everything to do with health including your hearing. The truth is the most effective way to safeguard your hearing is to be conscious of noise hazards like the headphones you wear to listen to music or loud environmental sounds you can’t control like a jackhammer or traffic.

If you already protect your ears from loud noises then it’s time to shift your focus to other proactive lifestyle choices like diet and exercise. What foods do you want on your plate for better hearing health?

Get Some Omega-3

Omega-3 fatty acids are a good dietary addition for just about every function in your body including your hearing. Scientists from the University of Sydney state in a 2010 paper published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that adding just two helpings of oily fish — a common source of omega-3 fatty acids — every week lowers your risk of age-related hearing loss by up to 42 percent.

That’s just one of a number of good reasons to include fatty acids in your diet, though. Omega-3 is connected to the reduction of blood triglycerides, it reduces the risk of dementia and is the right choice for better heart health. Now, we can add hearing to the list too.

Fish is a good source of this critical element but be careful what kind of fish you choose. Look for wild salmon, tuna or sardines if you want more omega-3 fatty acid.

Folate

Folate is a type of folic acid, one that is often given to women expecting a baby to help prevent neural tube defects during gestation. Folic acid is also listed on the World Health Association’s List of Essential Medicines. At least one study indicates that taking folate will reduce the risk of age-related hearing loss by as much as 35 percent.

The recommended daily intake of folate is 400 micrograms, and the food is always the best source. You’ll find folate in those green leafy vegetables, the dark ones, like spinach or kale, along with beans and in black-eyed peas.

Potassium

Potassium plays an important role in the balancing of specific metabolic processes such as fluid levels and that makes it critical for good hearing, too. The inner ear is where you’ll find the cochlea, a bony labyrinth that is filled with fluid. As sound enters your ear, the fluid vibrates. Those vibrations are what move the hair cells so they send electrical messages the brain can translate into sound.

Clearly, having the right balance of fluid in the inner ear is necessary for effective hearing. In fact, the current theory about conditions that affect what you hear like Meniere’s disease relates directly to this fluid balance. A change in fluid levels might also be a factor in the age-related hearing loss, so add some potatoes, spinach, bananas or yogurt to your daily diet to ensure you get the potassium you need.

Zinc

Zinc is another one of those minerals that make a difference when it comes to your health, especially in the fight against infection. How much zinc you get matters, though. Too much is has negative consequences. The recommended dosage for zinc is around 11 mg per day for adults.

Just enough zinc each day will help reduce the risk of the ear infections. They can interfere with your hearing and may damage the delicate mechanisms of the ear. Zinc also improves wound healing, including the ones inside the ear canal after an infection.

There is some indication that zinc intake helps those with tinnitus, too. Tinnitus is the ringing that some people hear when there is a change in their hearing. Not everyone hears ringing, though. Some individuals with tinnitus complain of wind blowing or clicking noises in their ears. More evidence is needed to prove that zinc is effective in the treatment of tinnitus, however, but it can’t hurt.

Foods rich in zinc include beef, nuts, and beans. You can even get it in dark chocolate, so go ahead and add a tasty treat to that plate for more zinc.

Good healthy habits like a balanced diet and exercise are also the right choice to lower the risk of chronic illnesses like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Having any one of those conditions increases your odds of age-related hearing loss. Add the direct benefit eating certain foods has on ear health, why wouldn’t you get picky about what you put on your plate?

Why Would Your Hearing Drop More If You Wait to Get Hearing Aids?

Calendar and hourglass suggesting limited time to get a hearing aid

Hearing aids cost money, so you might ask, do you really need them? It’s common to put the expense of a medical device before the possible health problems it might prevent. The answer to the question does one need hearing aids to prevent hearing loss is a complicated one, too, because hearing itself is complex. There is a certain use or lose it factor when it comes to your ears. Consider some reasons hearing aids are an important part of maintaining your hearing, and, how not getting them comes with risks.

The Complexity of Hearing

Sound goes into the ears in waves that are amplified as they pass through to the inner ear. Some forms of hearing loss get in the way of the process. For people with this type of hearing problem, the answer is no, hearing aids won’t slow that progression. Hearing aids will improve the transmission of sound but not prevent the initial decline. Damage to the delicate mechanisms of the ears like the hair cells will happen whether you wear hearing aids or not.

Your hearing is about more than just sound levels, though. Another critical factor in effective hearing is how you interpret of distinctive sounds like speech. Voice recognition systems on mobile devices and computers improve with each word you say. In many ways, the human brain does the same thing. After all, newborns don’t understand language right away. The learn words through listening to repetition. The more often they hear a word, the more likely they are to recognize it. That’s also why not having hearing aids matters when it comes to hearing loss.

The Concept of Use It or Lose It

Most forms of hearing loss are gradual, in other words, you start losing some sounds before you even know there is a problem. Hearing loss tends to start with hard letters like S, F or T. As you listen to words, the sound of hard letters drops off. What was once the word stop might now sound more like op or something close to it.

Over time, the nerve that recognizes these different words loses its ability to understand them because certain sounds are missing. That’s how the use it or lose it principle works. An infant understands the word mommy only after it’s repeated many times. That same child will lose the appreciation of the word if people stop saying it. After a few months, mommy would be just another meaningless noise to figure out.

The point is that sound interpretation suffers without the right stimulation. That interpretation is done by the auditory cortex in the brain, and, like most things related to brain function, it needs exercise. Brain training exercise is quite popular right now. Their goal is to work the part of the brain responsible for creating short-term memory because keeping it fit helps help fight off dementia. Sound interpretation works the same way.

The Benefit of Hearing Aids

Hearing aids have one role to play — they make sound clearer. Poor quality ones do that by simply making the sound louder. Better quality hearing aids also filter out background noises so that you can identify sounds more efficiently. What this does for your brain is reintroduce it to those elements of speech you’ve been missing and help you relearn them.

The brain benefit goes beyond just improving your ability to understand speech, though. The stress on the brain that comes with hearing loss causes damage to other regions like short-term memory. A study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins found that individuals with even a minor hearing loss had an increased risk of dementia. Those with a significant hearing deficit are five times more likely to develop it.

Health is an important consideration when deciding whether or not to get hearing aids — arguably more critical than the cost. Although, technically, hearing aids will not slow the progression of age-related hearing loss, having them does matter at many levels, especially when it comes to brain health and the ability to understand speech.

8 Pieces of Information You Really Need to Know About Earwax

Man cleaning earwax from his ears by pulling tissues out of ear

There are likely to be a few things you don’t understand about earwax. After all, it’s not a normal part of a conversation, right? Like what’s the job of this strange sticky substance and why is it made? Consider eight ever so interesting details about cerumen — that’s earwax for most people — that you didn’t even know were essential to hearing health.

1. Earwax is Not Really Wax

It’s called wax, but it’s not a wax at all. The name comes from the waxy texture. Earwax is made partially of skin cells from the auditory, or ear, the canal. This area contains skin that is always renewing itself. As dead cells drop off, they are pulled in to produce earwax.

Along with the dead skin cells, it also contains secretions from the ceruminous and the sebaceous glands. The ceruminous gland is a small sweat gland that sits just outside the ear canal. The sebaceous glands are located anywhere there is skin to provide the oil that keeps it lubricated.

The exact formula of earwax consists of:

  • Fatty acids
  • Squalene
  • Alcohols
  • Cholesterol

They combine with the dead skin cells to create this very necessary substance.

2. Earwax Safeguards Your Ears

It’s role is to protect the skin inside the auditory canal. It takes just a small break in that skin to cause an infection that leads to an earache. The strange texture of the earwax lubricates this skin, as well, and it is a natural antimicrobial, so it stops bacterial infections before they can start.

Earwax is similar to other protective elements on the body like nose hairs or tears. You don’t think much about them, either, but they an important part of preventing infection.

3. There are Different Kinds of Earwax

That’s right, surprisingly not all earwax is the same. It comes in two forms: wet and dry. What kind you have depends on genetics just like eye color. Wet earwax is the dominant gene, so it’s common for most people. Individuals with East Asian descent, from China or Korea, for example, usually have the recessive dry gene as do the Native American Indians. It’s a detail important to anthropologists as they track the migration of different cultures throughout the world.

4. Earwax Cleans the Ears

Yes, that is another essential function of earwax. Think of it as a conveyor belt like you see in the grocery store checkout lane. Dirt, dead skin cells and bacteria get stuck in the earwax to create the belt. When the eardrum beats or the jaw moves, the belt goes towards the opening of the ear canal, taking all that debris with it.

The movement of the jaw is responsible for dislodging the wax from the wall of the ear canal so that it can be expelled through the ear opening.

5. Too Little Earwax a Bad Thing

Everyone experiences itchy ears sometimes, but for some, it’s a sign of too little earwax maybe due to excessive cleaning. Earwax is natural substance and self-clearing. There few reasons to try to dig it out, especially if your ears already itch.

That itch probably means the skin that covers the auditory canal is dry because there isn’t enough earwax. Since, earwax is the natural lubrication of this skin, removing it will just lead to more itching. Instead, try a drop or two of mineral oil to moisten the dry skin.

6. Too Much Earwax is Bad Too

A buildup of earwax can lead to a temporary hearing loss. This usually happens when the wax is pushed back by a cotton swab, end of a pencil or whatever else you use to clean your ears. That push creates a ball that gets lodged. Sound travels as a vibration through the canal to the inner ear. That process is disrupted when there is an earwax blockage.

7. You Can Clear Earwax Out Safely

Not by shoving a cotton swab in the canal, though. There is a reason mom said not to put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear.

If you have diabetes or problems with your ears, let the doctor clean them for you. If you do feel the need to do it yourself, a few drops of baby oil will soften the earwax and, hopefully, dislodge it. Once the wax is soft enough to come out, use a rubber-bulb syringe to gently move room temperature water through the ear. When the water is in place, tilt your ear to the side and allow it to drain out.

Dry the outside of your ear with a clean towel. If you are prone to swimmer’s ear or ear infections, a few drops of rubbing alcohol will ensure all the water dries up.

8. Not All Hearing Loss is Due to Earwax

If your hearing doesn’t return after your ears are cleared, talk to your doctor. A professional ear exam and a hearing test can pinpoint that problem, so you can start to hear again even if it means you need hearing aids.

Why Sweet Treats Will Make Tinnitus Terrible

Child reaching for a tempting cookie from a plate on the table.

Will diet play a role in the ringing that comes with tinnitus? Often when a doctor diagnoses tinnitus in a patient, the first step is to call for a professional hearing test. Tinnitus is a symptom that can indicate damage to the delicate hair cells found in the inner ear, which is at the heart of many kinds of hearing loss. Inner ear issues are not the only possible cause of tinnitus, though.

The ringing associated with tinnitus is not a medical condition itself, but a sign of a bigger problem like a significant hearing loss. Tinnitus may also mean there is an expected change in sugar levels in the blood or an increase of the production of insulin, a condition called hyperinsulinemia. Learning how the sugar you eat can change insulin levels may be the best way to turn the ringing off this holiday season.

What Causes Ringing in the Ears?

Tinnitus means a person hears phantom noises, typically ringing but patients also complain of:

  • Buzzing
  • Roaring
  • Clicking
  • Hissing

The noise isn’t really there, but it does sound real.

There are two types of tinnitus:

  • Subjective — Meaning a sound only you can hear
  • Objective — A sound caused by a faulty blood vessel. The doctor may also hear this noise during an examination.

The most common of these two forms of tinnitus is subjective. It is a condition that affects approximately 40 million people in the U.S.. For 10 million people with tinnitus, the noise is loud enough to interfere with their daily activities. Most importantly, severe tinnitus can get in the way of a good night’s sleep and that affects overall health.

What is Hyperinsulinemia?

Hyperinsulinemia is the medical name for too much insulin in the blood. Insulin works a lot like a key that opens the membranes around cells to allow sugar to enter.

All cells utilize sugar (glucose) for energy. When there is too much sugar inside the cell membrane, it causes damage. This is why membranes are locked. They only open when the body determines there are high levels of sugar in the blood. To combat the high blood sugar, it produces insulin to unlock the cell membranes and pull sugar inside. The cells then metabolize the sugar to create fuel.

So, what happens to the blood when a person eats too many sweet treats? The blood sugar level rises and insulin is released in response. This is critical because too much blood sugar is harmful to tissue, specifically the veins, arteries and nerves. This is the reason individuals diagnosed with diabetes tend to have problems with the circulation in the legs and feet and don’t heal well.

To stabilize the blood sugar after eating something high in sugar, your body increases it’s production of insulin, leading to hyperinsulinemia, or higher than normal blood insulin levels. It’s not just candy and sweet treats that cause this condition, either. Any carbohydrate like bread will have the same effect.

Hyperinsulinemia is sometimes a metabolic disorder that indicates insulin resistance associated with type 2 diabetes. When cells become resistant to insulin, it’s like someone changes the locks on the membranes and the key no longer works.

This is a vicious cycle because the body will produce more insulin in an attempt to regulate blood sugar levels that can’t drop naturally. The sugar has nowhere to go because the cells have locked it out. The higher the sugar levels, the more insulin the body makes.

Hyperinsulinemia and Tinnitus: What is the Connection?

At least one 2004 study found that somewhere between 84 to 92 percent of people with tinnitus have hyperinsulinemia, too. It may be related to the development of Meniere’s disease — a condition caused by changes in inner ear fluid pressure.

What we do know for sure is that the inner ear needs a steady supply of oxygen and glucose to function well. Any fluctuation in that system might lead to ringing in the ears. Long-term and uncontrolled high blood sugar can interfere with the nerve that allows the brain to understand sound, it can damage the vessels that supply the ear with blood and, finally, even a little extra sugar changes the electrolyte balance of the fluid in the inner ear.

What Does This Mean For People Who Love Those Holiday Cookies?

By now, most people realize that the simple sugars found in cookies and candy are bad for them. Now, you can add hearing problems and tinnitus to the list of reasons you should manage your intake. For the most part, the tinnitus associated with the occasional sugar blast is harmless. If you do overindulge a bit this season, you might notice that funny noise in your ears. If you already suffer from tinnitus, though, the noise will get worse, so slow down on the treats.